News outlets have been bursting with news about a fascinating nutritional supplement called deer antler velvet. Used for centuries by indigenous peoples but relatively new to the western world, deer antler velvet is changing the face of sports today. Already increasing performance and recovery time for athletes the world over, the research on deer antler velvet is just beginning.
What is Deer Antler Velvet?
Deer antler velvet is a natural by-product of antler growth. Every year, the antlers of deer, elk and other horned mammals undergo a growth spurt. At the end of that spurt, the growing cartilage inside the antlers turn to bone and the skin or velvet that protected the soft cartilage naturally falls away carrying with it hormones and other substances important to the growth and health of the human body.
Most of the deer antler velvet on the market today is harvested in Australia and Korea. Instead of waiting for the deer to rub off and discard the dried velvet, shepherds collect the still-soft antlers and harvest the fresh and viable velvet. It is then dried, frozen and later processed for consumption. Harvesting is often done with veterinary supervision and no harm comes to the deer, and the antlers are regenerated each year.
The key to deer antler velvet's game-changing properties is a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 or IGF-1. This growth hormone occurs naturally in human as well as deer bodies. In humans, it is naturally produced by the liver in conjunction with human growth hormone. Higher levels of human growth hormone are correlated with higher levels of IGF-1.
In the body, IGF-1 speeds the transport of glucose and amino acids to the muscles and stimulates their DNA production. This ferrying and stimulation increases lean muscle mass production, helps muscles recover more quickly and generally enhances performance. As the body's production of IGF-1 peaks, recovery time is at its highest rate.
But as we age, our body's production of IGF-1 slows. Our muscles become weaker and smaller and we recover more slowly from injury. By supplementing the body's IGF-1 supply with all-natural deer antler velvet, researchers are seeking natural ways to turn back the clock. Athletes who use deer antler velvet supplementation seek to increase their physical abilities and return to, or surpass, their peak performance. Because the IGF-1 extracted from the antlers of deer is an all-natural organic compound, it comes without the same risk of dangerous side effects or health concerns posed by synthetic chemicals.
Athletes aren't the only group who benefit from deer antler velvet. Ongoing studies and research on the properties of IGF-1 and other compounds in deer antler velvet are promising. Because IGF-1 also affects the heart muscle, it has been studied for its role in potentially helping to increases cardiac efficiency. Preliminary studies also show that other compounds in deer antler velvet may improve mental acuity, boost immune function, slow aging, improve libido and promote healthy blood sugar levels.
Over the last few decades, scientists have been conducting extensive research on the safety of deer antler velvet. One seminal study comes from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Otago in New Zealand, one of the leaders in deer velvet research. After a series of ninety-day studies where participants took deer antler velvet supplements daily, they showed no toxicity or negative effects from any of the compounds in this all natural product. As a natural-derived substance, deer antler velvet was well tolerated by participants in the study group.
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