Brian Hughes

Is Velvet Antler Indian Medicine?

January 30, 2013

No (or at least not in well-known traditions; if you know of any, let us know). However, there is an old tradition in Asia about it.

Thousands of years ago, the Chinese and other Asians carefully harvested the fuzzy growth off deer antlers before it became calcified, boiled it in water and drank it as tea for a variety of health reasons including as a restorative tonic and tumor treatment.

Now researchers are studying the chemistry, pharmacology and use of velvet antler extract, which is widely sold in Korea, China and Russia. More recently velvet antler has gained popularity in the West as a dietary supplement in pill form or as a liquid extract availble as an oral spray.

Bengals safety Roy Williams admits he uses "the spray all the time. Two to three times a day. My body felt good after using it. I did feel a difference,” he told Williams was refering to "The Ultimate Spray" containing deer antler velvet made by Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.), sold for $64 a bottle. The spray has made headlines recently because the NFL ordered Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, who began endorsing S.W.A.T.S. in 2008-2009, to sever his ties with the company this month. The performance-enhancing supplement is banned by the NFL. It's considered a human growth hormone, one of the substances organized sports wants to keep out. But since it's naturally occuring, it's hard to detect in a player's system.

“It’s similar to HGH in that it aids in recovery," Jonathan Danaceau, a director at a World Doping Agency approved lab, told "It helps build tissue, and strengthen tissue—more than you can ever do by training alone."

The animal-derived herb is believed to offer numerous health benefits. MotherEarthLiving. com reports that one study revealed taking velvet antler extracts "increased the proliferation of human white blood cells in laboratory experiments, suggesting possible immune stimulating or immune modulating actions."

Other lab tests have shown it has anti-­inflammatory properties. Studies in Asia and Russia demonstrated benefits including improved muscle tone and strength, increased blood output from the heart, healing in convalescing ­patients and in chronic circulatory ­disorders
, improvement for ­impotence caused by atrophy and weakness of the kidneys, and more.

Among other things, practitioners generally prescribe 1 to 2 grams of it "for impotence, involuntary discharge of semen, infertility, lassitude, dizziness, tinnitus, back pains with a cold sensation, plus 'cold deficiency' and vaginal discharge in women."

How It's Harvested:

One of the biggest deer estates where velvet is harvested covers 50,000 acres in New Zealand. In the 1970s, New Zealanders began to domesticate the deer after a population explosion caused a depletion in native vegetation. Now the deer roam green pastures of "specially selected grass species intermixed with bitter herbs like chicory, which deer love," reports.

The velvet-like substance grows on the antlers of several species of deer, but primarily the Cervus nippon, the Japanese or Asian deer (known as hua-lu-rong), and Cervus elaphus, the European red deer (ma-lu-rong). Before removal, the farmers handle the bucks extremely carefully to reduce stress. The hairy coating is taken from the deer halfway through the growth process, some 50-60 days after it starts forming, with a licensed vet present. The stags are given a sedative to protect them and the handler, and a local anesthesia is administered prior to removal of the antler. The velvet is then freeze-dried and either ground into a powder or thinly sliced for the Korean market.