Jan 29, 2015
What Is Deer Antler Velvet?

In the week leading up to Super Bowl, a report surfaced alleging that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, along with a number of University of Alabama football players, had purchased a substance called deer antler velvet. Despite its peculiar name, deer antler velvet has long been on the NCAA and major professional league radars because of its inclusion of one ingredient: insulinlike growth factor-1, or IGF-1, a banned substance. So what is IGF-1, and how does it work?
Last week, Sports Illustrated reported that the 37-year-old Lewis purchased a spray form of the substance along with deer antler pills and other products from a company known as Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (SWATS) in October after he tore his right triceps. The same article reported that Alabama players purchased the deer antler products prior to playing Notre Dame in the National Championship in January.

“[Deer] antlers are the fastest-growing substance on planet earth … because of the high concentration of IGF-1,” SWATS Co-Founder Christopher Key told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve been able to freeze dry that out, extract it, put it in a sublingual spray that you shake for 20 seconds and then spray three [times] under your tongue … This stuff has been around for almost 1,000 years.”

IGF-1 is a hormone that naturally occurs in the liver and circulates in the blood. The body produces IGF-1 at normal levels in response to growth hormone. When growth hormone signals the need for IGF-1 for muscle growth or repair, the liver produces it, then it binds to muscle cells, which in turn multiply and grow.

Spyros Mezitis, MD, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told CBSNews.com that IGF-1 can aid in muscle growth and boost muscle strength in humans and that it also increases metabolism of carbohydrates, bringing more sugars to the cells that also help muscle growth.

According to Mezitis, some low growth hormone conditions, such as dwarfism, can be treated with injections of IGF-1. However, “we do not prescribe [IGF-1 ] on a basis for muscle building,” Mezitis, who does not treat athletes, told CBSNews.com. He added that he was aware of a spray, but notes it is not as potent as the injection. If IGF-1 is abused, he said, people may experience more muscle strength and issues with aggressiveness.

Why is IGF-1 banned by so many organizations? IGF-1 is “just like giving someone human growth hormone,” Don Catlin, the former head of UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Lab, told The New York Times. “It goes to the same kinds of receptors and turns them on.”

Martin Miner, MD, co-director of the Men’s Health Center at Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., says that despite all this, he doesn’t believe that when taken orally, IGF-1 can have much affect on a humans ability to heal or perform athletically.

“It’s similar to human growth hormone, and there’s very little research on HGH in men,” Milner told Boston.com. “What we do know is that HGH needs to be injected to have any effects. The body can’t absorb enough of the hormone by mouth since too much gets broken down by the liver during digestion.

“I just cannot believe that one could consume high enough quantities of IGF-1 from an oral spray that it would increase healing or enhance athletic ability,” Miner added. “I think this product is pretty much a lot to do about nothing.”

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