The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lifted a ban on deer antler spray earlier this month, a natural supplement that rose to prominence after “Sports Illustrated” reported in January that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis used the substance to recover from a torn triceps muscle.
Deer antler spray is controversial because it includes IGF-1, which is an insulin-like growth factor. IGF-1 is on the prohibited list of WADA as a performance-enhancing drug and by many professional sports leagues, including the NFL and MLB.
However, when the regulatory body determined that the substance contained only trace amounts of IGF-1, WADA’s ban on deer antler spray was reversed.
A stunning number of professional athletes, whether or not they’re banned or not, swear by this stuff, which they use as a “steroid alternative” to enhance muscular strength or boost endurance.
According to one supplement maker, Rick Lentini of Nutronics Labs, 40% of MLB and NFL players buy his product. The LA Times recently reported that hundreds of athletes from each league use the spray. CBSSports.com spoke to several NFL players in January, and 10 to 20 percent of them said they used the supplement.
Deer antler spray has been popular among athletes, celebrities, and sports teams since at least the 1960s. While manufacturers advertise that it offers a slew of advantages, scientists are doubtful.
The deer antler spray legend
Deer antler spray and velvet has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, usually given to boost kidney function, increase blood flow, and treat a variety of illnesses, according to the journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Many people use apple cider vinegar as a supplement, either to enhance their athletic performance or to gain muscle and endurance. It is used by runners, athletes, and bodybuilders in the West to build muscle and improve endurance.
IGF-1 is a natural protein found in the human body. It’s what stimulates growth in children. As a result, increasing the levels of IGF-1 in the system theoretically might improve the number of cells with the ability to create new muscle after exercise-induced damage. This implies you can build muscle at a quicker rate and become more powerful.
Deer antler spray contains IGF-1, which is produced from deer antler velvet, the tissue present inside a deer’s antlers before they harden completely. Because deer antlers develop at such a rapid rate, it’s no surprise that they’re high in IGF-1. This is a naturally-occurring form of IGF-1, meaning it is not made in a lab. As a result, deer antler velvet is considered a dietary supplement by the Food and Drug Administration. Unlike synthesized drugs, the product does have to be proven safe or effective before it’s sold to the public.
A veterinarian removes the tip of the live antler from the velvet during its early growth stage. If left unchecked, the antlers will harden and become sharp. The liquid is frozen before being sent to producers who will make it into a spray.
The CEO of Nutronics Labs, a firm that markets itself as selling the world’s most powerful and purest deer antler spray, claims to have brought it to the United States over two decades ago.
It can aid in the recovery of injuries, alleviate brain inflammation caused by concussions, heal sprains and torn ligaments more quickly, enhance flexibility in joints, assist with heart health, and relieve arthritic pain, according to Lentini.
Scientists are skeptical
Deer antler spray is marketed as a panacea, but the medical evidence is weak at best.
The question is whether an IGF-1 mouth spray makes it into our muscles intact, given that there’s a lot of evidence that it’s a growth hormone in people. Even if IGF-1 enters the circulation after being absorbed below the tongue, no one knows what impact it has or if any exists at all.
The authors of the study, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, looked at mice and discovered that increasing levels of IGF-1 improved muscle healing… when the mice were genetically modified to produce more IGF-1 in their muscles. Nothing is proved by this regarding using growth hormone via mouth administration.