The Inside Scoop: Velvet Antler

Although Rudolph’s red nose gets all the fame, his antlers deserve some attention, too. Velvet deer antlers are one of the principal ingredients used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, especially yang tonics that increase energy, warmth, and cardiovascular health
By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa

Antlers from deer, and sometimes elk, are “often used to increase blood counts, particularly in cases of anemia induced by chemotherapy,” says TCM practitioner David Scrimgeour, LAc. “Velvet antler is very fast-growing, thus the association with it being able to quickly reproduce something like red blood cells.” According to researchers, compounds in the antlers called monoacetyldiglycerides appear to stimulate bone marrow and increase red-blood-cell production. In animal studies, antler supplements have been shown to increase heart muscle strength, stabilize its rhythm, and regulate blood pressure.

Research in the past few years also suggests velvet antler may help treat osteoarthritis, possibly because of its large quantities of glucosamine, chondroitin, and collagen, all of which promote joint health. A 2004 study in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, for example, found that when osteoarthritic dogs received powdered elk velvet antler, their walking ability, vitality, and performance of daily “doggy” activities increased significantly. The researchers concluded that velvet antler “was effective in alleviating the condition in arthritic dogs.”

Traditionally this remedy had little to do with aching knees or red blood cells. Instead it was (and still is) widely touted for its ability to increase sexual function, overall strength, and aerobic ability, even though human studies haven’t supported these outcomes.

The antlers used in these preparations usually come from farm-raised deer. Before a deer’s antlers calcify in late summer, they’re covered in a soft fuzz called velvet. Medicinally speaking, this marks the antlers’ most potent state. The deer is given a local anesthetic, and the antlers are removed to make the supplements. The buck doesn’t feel any pain and the antlers grow back—at up to half an inch a day, making them the fastest growing animal organ.

New Zealand, Australia, and Canada produce the most deer antler supplements, which come in liquid, powder, or pill forms. A common dose is 3 to 9 grams a day. Some reputable companies selling it include Planetary, Seven Forests, Plum Flower, Wapiti Labs, and Tobin Farms. If you buy the powder form, you can boil it in water to make a tea. Just make sure not to add other ingredients to the tea until after you’ve finished boiling it—the gelatin in the powder tends to stick to them in a less than savory fashion.