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American Velvet: Does It Work?

The use of elk antler velvet in traditional Chinese medicine has been around for hundreds of years and the Western world has been slowly catching up on its wonders when it was forced into the spotlight during Superbowl XLVII season. It has made many people to wonder if elk antler velvet really does work.

Linebacker Ray Lewis of Superbowl champion team Baltimore Ravens suffered from a torn tricep injury during October 2012 and allegedly took elk antler velvet as a pill and sublingual spray to help him recover faster. Elk antler velvet contains IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), a hormone that boosts testosterone and is considered as a performance-enhancing drug by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and NFL (National Football League).  Major League Baseball and the World Anti-Doping Agency have also banned IGF-1.In this case, IGF-1 is the substance that is banned, not elk antler velvet.

 Elk Antler Velvet: Does It Work?

Elk antler velvet is a type of cartilaginous tissue found in antlers at its early-growth stages. Before antlers become very hard, the tissue inside the velvet (antlers) are harvested and made into what we use today.

References to its early usage were found in a written scroll in a tomb in Hunan province, China and are believed to be 2,000 years old.  Traditional Chinese medicine uses elk antler velvet to give energy, stamina and greater overall vitality. In modern times, elk antler velvet is  “proven” to increase muscle mass and strength, decrease body fat, increase endurance, reduce recovery time, improve circulation, reduce joint pain and inflammation, beautify skin, enhance brain function, bolster immunity, and improve kidney and liver function. 

Scientific evidence of how well it works has been scarce but continuous research doesn’t rule out the possibility of its effectiveness.  Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of The Fellowship at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, and an authority on dietary supplements, explains that IGF-1 in the velvet promotes rapid growth of the antler. Dr. Low Dog notes that the two studies examining the effects of deer antler velvet supplements taken by athletes have yielded conflicting results. One showed some improvements in endurance and knee strength in weightlifters, but the other found no differences in rowers after 10 weeks of supplementation. However, one must note that there are many factors that could affect outcome – mainly in the diet and overall health of the source of elk antler velvet – dear, caribou, moose, elk.

 IGF-1: The Key Component

We are going to focus on one of the key components of elk antler velvet. It has been proven that it has high levels of IGF-1 and early research shows that IGF-1 may be effective in healing some cartilage and tendon injuries, noted Leon Popovitz, an orthopedic surgeon and founder of New York Bone & Joint in Manhattan.

A recent study found that taking IGF-1 supplements is linked to improving cartilage damage in joints due to repetitive trauma, Popovitz said. (source)

IGF-1 affects how the body repairs itself. First, the hormone aids in building up a matrix or base—essentially a building block of protein—that's needed for cells to grow. Then, the substance increases the number of new cells that accumulate on that base, which get busy healing the injury.

Elk antler velvet is yet to be regulated as more studies need to be done to be able to classify it but being a known key medicine used in traditional Chinese medicine dating back thousands of years is enough “study” for most people to try it.