Dear Pharmacist: My hero is Ray Lewis of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and I heard he took deer antler velvet to recover from his muscle injuries faster. Do you recommend this? — D.D., Baltimore
Answer: As a Broncos fan, I’ll answer your question, albeit reluctantly!
I’ve never recommended deer antler velvet extract, but it’s sold at health food stores and online. Deer antler spray was thrust into the Super Bowl spotlight with reports alleging Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis ordered the supplement as a sublingual spray and a pill to help him recover from a torn tricep injury, but interestingly, this supplement is also touted as a male sexual performance aid. Hang on for more on that.
Deer antlers grow incredibly fast. The dietary supplements (when authentic) harvest antler velvet from growing deer, moose, elk and caribou. The antlers are removed from the animal before they form solid bone, and the velvet is removed. It can be painful, and I’m worried that new demand will shortcut proper harvesting techniques.
Anyway, after processing, the extract contains calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen, all of which support bone health.
This crazy stuff is banned by the NCAA and the NFL (National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Football League respectively). Why? Because it contains IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), a hormone that boosts testosterone. It’s the IGF-1 that is banned, not deer antler.
This is a good time to tell you that IGF-1 is a totally natural growth hormone. It’s what makes children grow into adults. It’s circulating in your blood as we speak, so IGF-1 is not bad. It happens to increase muscle strength and improve muscle recovery while breaking down carbs faster. You can measure IGF-1 with a blood test.
As I said, antler velvet tends to mildly increase levels of your sex hormone testosterone. Is it a substitute for Viagra? While a little extra “T” does improve desire and sexual function, I doubt it will put enough lead in your pencil if your arteries are truly clogged. You see, erectile dysfunction is often a sign of coronary artery disease, so to mask it with a supplement or drug that gets your motor started doesn’t make sense to me. I’d rather you unclog the pipelines to get your blood flowing down south (and to your heart) but that’s a different column altogether. As for women, deer antler velvet supplements may increase estrogen levels. If you’re low in estrogen and need it for menopausal concerns, I guess you could ask your doctor about this supplement, but what if you are normal or high? That’s a major problem. These supplements contain estrogen compounds, so it could worsen any kind of hormone-sensitive condition such as uterine fibroids or cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical problems, endometriosis, fibrocystic breast disease or breast cancer.
While it all sounds impressive, I simply can’t find solid studies to recommend it.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at www.suzycohen.com.