More than 50 million North Americans suffer from the debilitating pain of osteoarthritis and joint injuries, and many older household pets also experience joint inflammation and lack of mobility due to arthritic conditions. Ironically, most commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs actually contribute to joint degeneration, and also risk a host of other potentially dangerous side effects.
A review of literature related to the use of velvet antler products as an alternative to drugs provides compelling evidence to support the claim that compounds in antler velvet may be significantly more effective and longer-lasting than many conventional prescription and non-prescription drugs for relief of the symptoms of osteoarthritis. The literature also suggests that velvet antler may provide additional benefits such as increased vitality, enhanced cardiovascular health, improved mental health and relief of some conditions associated with aging. Other research indicates that velvet antler may assist in muscle growth and strength training. Furthermore, as a natural dietary supplement, velvet antler does not produce drug-related side effects and is therefore considered by many researchers to be safer for use than most conventional drugs.
The production of elk and deer velvet antler as a dietary supplement or medicinal substance constitutes a major industry in Asia, and the history of antler velvet use in Asian countries dates back more than 2,000 years.
In North America, domesticated North American elk constitute the primary source of velvet antler dietary supplements. Due to the size and overall quality of North American elk antler, velvet antler produced in the United States and Canada is generally considered to be a premium product in countries such as China, Japan and Korea, and a significant export market exists to support this claim.
Collection of North American elk antler is performed without endangering the host animals. Harvesting is a simple procedure performed once per year during the spring “velvet” stage of antler growth. During this period, the antlers are in a soft cartilaginous state, providing peak potency of the compounds associated with the claims made in numerous studies regarding velvet antler’s beneficial effects.
Elk antler is composed of a variety of different tissues, including cartilage, and is also rich in collagen, a crucial protein, and glycosaminoglycans. Glycosaminoglycans help form cartilage proteoglycans, which regulate water retention and cell differentiation. They also help proliferate chondrocytes in cartilaginous tissue.
Velvet antler contains nearly 40 key compounds including:
Chondroitin sulfate, a carbohydrate that attracts fluid into proteoglycan molecules and protects cartilage from destructive enzymes
Glucosamine sulfate, the building block of cartilage and a reported anti-inflammatory easily absorbed by the body
Lipids, to build cells and boost energy
Prostaglandins, powerful anti-inflammatory agents
Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors, which enhance mood
Selenium, which reduces infections, and protects blood cells, the heart, liver and lungs
Calcium, for bones, teeth, nerves, blood clotting and muscle contraction
Collagen, a major structural protein that binds joints together and serves as a main component of articular cartilage
Phosphorus, which helps build bones and teeth, and is a key component of metabolic reaction
Polysaccharides, which helps regulate blood clotting activity
All essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein
Potassium, for nerves and muscles
Magnesium, to help cells restore and release energy
Bone morphogenetic protein, which speeds bone growth
Growth factors, which aid in cartilage cell development.
Although traditional Chinese medical literature dating back more than 2,000 years extols the benefits of antler velvet as a premium medicinal substance, recent studies provide compelling scientific evident supporting the use of velvet antler to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Additional research indicates velvet antler may provide beneficial effects in several other areas including cardiovascular health, mental health and growth and strength enhancement.
JOINT AND BONE HEALTH
Osteoarthritis is caused by the loss of cartilage in bone joints. In normal joints, cartilage serves as a buffer between bones. Usually the body replenishes cartilage as it wears away, but when osteoarthritis occurs, cartilage deteriorates faster than the body can replace it. Eventually, the bones begin to rub together, causing pain, swelling and loss of joint mobility.
Most treatments for osteoarthritis attempt to reduce pain and maintain joint function, but these treatments do little to restore joint health. In fact, many prescription and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs actually prevent the growth of collagen in joints, causing further cartilage degeneration.
These drugs can also produce other serious side effects such as deterioration of the gastrointestinal tract lining, and liver and kidney damage.
Researchers believe that the imbalance between cartilage erosion and regeneration in osteoarthritis suffers is caused by a lack of glycosaminoglycans. Glycosaminoglycans play a vital role in the structural integrity of cartilage.
Several studies indicate that velvet antler can reduce or even eliminate symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. Recent clinical tests suggest oral ingestion of glycosaminoglycan-peptide complex, or components such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate – both found in velvet antler – may help stimulate cartilage repair. Placebo-controlled double-masked studies of both humans and animals on the therapeutic effects of glycosaminoglycan-peptide complex appear to confirm these investigations. Researchers are now studying how these apparent effects occur.
Chondroitin sulfate, the most abundant glycosaminoglycan found in velvet antler, is used in surgery to stabilize tissue. Several studies on humans indicate regular oral ingestion of chondroitin sulfate can significantly reduce the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. The compound appears to inhibit enzymes that deplete cartilage nutrition. Chondroitin sulfate molecules are long chains of sugars and sulfur that create tiny spaces filled with fluid. These spaces protect and cushion joints.
Randomized studies of glucosamine indicate the compound not only inhibits cartilage degradation but also helps repair damaged cartilage. An eight-week double-blind trial of glucosamine on 40 osteoarthritis sufferers found that the compound had significantly longer-lasting benefits than the commonly prescribed pain killer ibuprofen.. Other studies indicate that the effects appear to continue as long as six to 12 weeks after subjects stop taking glucosamine.
Additional research is now under way at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta (Edmonton), Canada, to determine the efficacy of antler velvet on rheumatoid arthritis. Previous studies have already suggested that the cartilage compounds found in antler may be effective at relieving rheumatoid arthritis pain.
STRENGTH & MUSCLE GROWTH ENHANCEMENT
Elk antler grows as much as 50 pounds in less than a few months, making it the fastest-developing animal organism in the world.
This rapid development is caused by antler’s high content of bone morphogenetic proteins, which regulate bone growth, as well as growth factors I and II. These growth factors increase the rate of cell division during antler development, and may contribute to the medicinal effects of velvet antler. In addition, velvet antler contains amino acids that have been proven in studies to increase growth hormone levels in humans.
A study conducted by Suttie and Haines found that animals fed high levels of active antler velvet extract grew significantly faster and as much as 12 percent more than a control group. The animals also experienced increased liver weight and a higher bone calcium content. In addition, the researchers found that antler appeared to decrease calcium excretion. In another study by Takikawa, et al., researchers reported observing new bone formation following experimental whiplash injuries in rabbits.
Perhaps the most well-publicized study of antler’s strength and muscle-enhancing attributes involved a blind trial of New Zealand athletes. Volunteers were divided into two groups, with height, weight and age closely balanced.
The first group received 70 mg of velvet antler extract per day for 10 weeks, while a control group received a placebo. Subjects underwent moderate flex and weight training, and were tested twice during the 10-week period and once following the 10 weeks. The athletes were also scanned with a Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry Scanner (DEXA) before and after the trial to determine any changes in body composition.
The researchers found that muscular endurance doubled among the velvet antler group, tending to support the assertion of previous studies that velvet antler improves muscle activity. At the same time, the athletes taking antler lost more body fat than those in the control group, but did not increase muscle size. The researchers speculate that antler use may boost muscle efficiency without increasing in muscle mass. Results of the DEXA scans also suggested that velvet antler may improve muscle dynamic activity. The New Zealand researchers theorized that the antler extract may improve blood supply to muscles or act as an anti-inflammatory, allowing athletes to recover faster from training sessions.
Athletes from New Zealand and other countries – swimmers and mountaineers to rugby players and golfers – have used velvet antler to increase strength, vitality and endurance. Other athletes and professionals requiring strength and endurance are also using antler as a legal substitute for anabolic steroids. Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, tested antler’s ability to increase strength and endurance on cadets from the Edmonton police academy. The researchers found that use of velvet antler significantly increased blood plasma testosterone levels in the men participating in the study.