Controversial deer antler extract may increase growth hormone levels through IGF-1 stimulation
Deer antler velvet is the premature form of the fully developed antler and is widely respected as a potential health juggernaut with a role in both muscular as well as hormonal invigoration. Concerning growth hormones, it has such proposed benefits as:
- Triggering IGF-1. Deer antler velvet holds extremely high levels of the growth factor.
- Increasing growth hormone levels. Supplementation may briefly increase growth hormone levels after workout.
- Activating growth-related cellular activity. Deer antler may trigger cellular division and regeneration.
Deer antler, also quite confusingly referred to as velvet antler, is the whole cartilaginous antler of deer, elk, and moose before it fully matures into its calcified form, and not the fuzzy substance that covers the bone and cartilage. The antler has curiously been propagated as a vitality booster since the days of ancient China and accordingly used as a tonic for its extensive health benefits, including improvements in muscle strength, stamina, and not least by any means, sexual performance.
Importantly, scientific developments in recent years suggest the relevance of deer antler in cellular growth as evidenced in its bioactivity specifically in regards to growth factors. The furry, rounded-tip antler is known to contain an ample collection of natural compounds, including amino acids, 416 unique proteins, and peptides. As this stage of heightened development, deer antler is ripe with the critical growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which may not only be responsible for sparking and then sustaining antler expansion, but also have a hand in overall cellular growth.1
IGF-1 is an endocrine hormone with a similar molecular structure to that of insulin that is stimulated by growth hormone (GH) for maturation during childhood and various metabolic processes in adults. Its impact on cellular division indicates feasible implications in cellular regeneration and repair processes in human, for which reason it has, in recent years, been investigated for its capacity to promote healing of injured tendons and cartilage.23
How Deer Antler May Help With Growth
Bountiful supply of IGF-1 and IGF-2
IGF-1 and its receptors have been identified in deer blood throughout periods of antler growth with real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in the tip, upper, middle, and base sections of the antler.7 It has been determined in an assortment of tests that IGF- 1 and IGF-2 assist cell division in undifferentiated cells and speed antler growth in fibroblasts and cartilage. In addition, IGF-1 increases alkaline phosphatase and cell growth in red deer antler tips. The postulation that deer antler extracts may serve as a valuable source of unrefined IGF-1 has positive implications for its therapeutic and distinctively growth-related use in humans.8
It would be advisable to note that, according to one study, the intensity of antler growth along with other anabolic benefits were found to branch principally from elevated testosterone rather than IGF-1 levels.9
Deer Antler for Growth Hormone Benefits & Uses
Numerous athletes and bodybuilders – both professional and recreational – use deer antler extract as a supplement due to its purported ability to stimulate the growth of body tissues, particularly reticuloendothelial cells and leukocytes, as well as for its general performance-enhancing effects, including boosting T-levels. On top of that, when used as a topical ointment, the extract appears to expedite external wound healing as well as hair restoration.
Research indicates that deer antler extracts may have growth stimulating potential.
In this study, deer antler topical cream at 0.3 grams was applied to the back wounds of 30 Sprague-Dawley rats once daily for 40 days. The expression of IGF-1 was upregulated in antler-treated skins with subsequent hair follicle growth in terms of size and number.
- The researchers concluded that “the antler extract markedly increases the depth, size, and number of hair follicles,” which suggests that “deer antler extract appears to have the potential to promote hair growth.”11
Other studies centering on deer have identified elevated amounts of IGF-1 in relation to axon growth in the middle sections of deer antlers12 and the growth of undifferentiated (budding fibroblast cells) in the tips.13
Preliminary evidence is limited and demonstrates somewhat positive but inconsistent results in regards to the growth effects of taking deer antler.
In this randomized, double-blind trial, 38 active males were given either deer antler velvet extract, deer antler velvet powder, or a placebo at 1500 mg while undertaking a strength training program for 10 weeks. The results displayed equal RM strength in all groups. While the deer antler powder group demonstrated a greater increase in isokinetic knee extensor strength and endurance, no group showed significant endocrine changes.
- The researchers concluded that “the inconsistent findings regarding the effects of deer antler velvet powder supplementation on the development of strength suggests that further work is required.”14
In this randomized, double-blind investigation, 46 male and female rowers were given 560 mg of elk velvet antler (EVA) per day throughout the course of a 10 week training program. Although levels of growth hormone, cortisol, and testosterone increased during the first 5 minutes of workout, the levels normalized at 60 minutes. Moreover, the difference between the results of the EVA and placebo groups was not considered to be scientifically significant.
- The researchers concluded that “the EVA group did not demonstrate altered resting serum blood concentrations of testosterone or human growth hormone nor an enhanced overall anabolic environment compared to those who trained without EVA supplementation.”15
A possible reason for the insufficiency of conclusive findings may stem from the challenge of deciding on an adequate dose of deer antler specified for growth hormone.
Dosage for Growth Hormone
Deer antler may be taken as:
- An extract, 500 mg – 1500 mg, daily
- A supplement, powdered in a capsule or extracted as an aqueous alcohol spray
Supplements in Review Says
- Deer antler extract, 500 mg – 1500 mg, daily
Deer antler has potential growth hormone benefits. The once highly controversial use of deer antler extract for supplementation seems to have been tempered by recent developments in scientific studies. Beyond its T-boosting effects, deer antler may be a means of increasing cellular regeneration and restoration due to its significant amounts of IGF-1, which would be ideal for rapid recovery after an intense workout.
Best way to take deer antler may be as a spray. Deer antler supplementation appears to be most convenient and effective when used topically, as is the case with deer antler spray. We recommend the supplement be taken cautiously as a spray in a range of 500 mg – 1500 mg daily.
- Suttie JM, et al. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) antler-stimulating hormone? Endocrinology. 1985 Feb;116(2):846-8. ↩
- Goss RJ. Future directions in antler research. Anat Rec. 1995 Mar;241(3):291-302. ↩
- Laky M, et al. The effect of deer antler growth factor on the viability and proliferation of primary human alveolar osteoblast cells in vitro. International Journal of Stomatology & Occlusion Medicine. 2010;2:175-8. ↩
- Nicholson J. Singh admits using deer antler spray, says he was unaware it was banned. PGA. January 13, 2013. http://www.pga.com/news/pga-tour/vijay-singh-admits-using-deer-antler-spray-says-he-unaware-it-banned. Accessed September 18, 2015. ↩
- Lallanilla M. Ray Lewis & Deer-Antler Spray: What Does The Science Say? February 1, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/ray-lewis-deer-antler-spray-science_n_2601031.html. Accessed September 18, 2015. ↩
- WADA. WADA urges vigilance over Deer Antler Velvet Spray. February 5, 2013. https://www.wada-ama.org/en/media/news/2013-02/wada-urges-vigilance-over-deer-antler-velvet-spray. Accessed September 18, 2015. ↩
- Gu L, et al. Expression and localization of insulin-like growth factor-I in four parts of the red deer antler. Growth Factors. 2007 Aug;25(4):264-79. ↩
- Batchelder HJ. Velvet Antler: A Literature Review. Natraflex. 2003 Nov 6:1-20. ↩
- Bartos L, et al. Testosterone, but not IGF-1, LH, prolactin or cortisol, may serve as antler-stimulating hormone in red deer stags (Cervus elaphus). Bone. 2009 Apr;44(4):691-8. ↩
- Cox HD, Eichner D. Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2013 Oct 15;27(19):2170-8. ↩
- Yang ZH, et al. Red deer antler extract accelerates hair growth by stimulating expression of insulin-like growth factor I in full-thickness wound healing rat model. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences. 2012;25:708-16. ↩
- Pita-Thomas W, et al. Gene expression of axon growth promoting factors in the deer antler. PLoS. One. 2010;5:e15706. ↩
- Sadighi M. Effect of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and IGF-II on the growth of antler cells in vitro. J Endocrinal. 1994;143:461-9. ↩
- Sleiver G, et al. The effects of deer antler velvet extract or powder supplementation on aerobic power, erythropoiesis, and muscular strength and endurance characteristics. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Sep;13(3):251-65. ↩
- Syrotulk DG, et al. Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Aug;15(4):366-85. ↩
- Anderson T, et al. Growth hormone does not stimulate early healing in rat tendons. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2012;3(33):240-3. ↩