There are over 35,000 dietary supplements available. Many are geared towards athletes, bodybuilders, weekend warriors and the like. Supplements like creatine monohydrate have stood the test of time; others, like desiccated liver tablets, haven't had such luck.
One supplement that's recently hit the market is deer antler velvet extract. Fortunately researchers have put this product to the test because up until now there isn't much scientific research to support or refute its use.
Deer antler velvet extract comes from New Zealand deer antlers. Analyses of deer antler indicate they are sources of calcium, phosphorous, sulfur, magnesium, potassium, sodium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, cobalt, amino acids, and free fatty acids. Moreover, insulin-like growth factors I and II have been isolated from deer antler velvet tips as well.
Therefore, with all these healthful nutrients, athletes have been using deer antler products with the intention of improving health and enhancing performance. Unfortunately, the benefits from deer antler products have primarily been anecdotal.
Therefore, because of the growing popularity of these supplements, particularly in countries such as New Zealand, well-controlled studies are needed. Fortunately I'm not the only one with that thought.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) determine whether supplementation with deer antler velvet extract or powder enhanced the normal strength and muscular endurance adaptations during a 10-week strength program and if it enhanced levels in anabolic hormones, and 2) determine if the supplement had an effect on erythropoeitic properties that would subsequently enhance aerobic power.
This was a double-blind, randomized trial. For those of you less familiar with the scientific process, here's a brief overview. Double-blind means subjects and researchers are unaware of which supplement is given to whom. The bottles may be labeled 'A' and 'B' or something that does not identify what supplement is in the bottle and someone who could not influence the results distributes the products.
Placebo controlled means one group of subjects received a placebo and another group received the actual supplement (e.g., in this study, one group received a placebo, one received deer antler velvet extract, and another received deer antler velvet powder).
A placebo is a supplement that looks and tastes identical to the "active" supplement, but does not provide any of the actual ingredients being investigated.
Finally, in a well-controlled "randomized" trial, subjects are randomly assigned to groups to ensure there are no preexisting differences among subjects (e.g., age, weight, height, gender, etc). This allows the researchers to draw sound conclusions from their results.
For example, if all the subjects in the placebo group averaged 20 years old and those in the supplemented group averaged 50 years old, it would be impossible to conclude that any changes are related solely to the supplement.
However, if all demographic variables were statistically similar at baseline, researchers can draw conclusions from whatever factors were different at the conclusion of the study (e.g,. the supplement given would be different).
Back to the study at hand. This was a 14-week study, in which 38-male subjects were given specific physiological tests were given prior to the study and again at the completion of the study. In addition, strength testing occurred weekly and blood was drawn to measure the endocrine responses.
Immediately following the pre-test, subjects were randomized into 3 groups. This was to ensure there were no significant strength differences at baseline. Twelve subjects were assigned to capsules of either deer antler velvet extract (300mg/day), 13 subjects to deer antler velvet powder (1.5 g/day), and 13 subjects received placebo capsules.
Subjects were instructed to consume 1 capsule of their respective supplement each day. Each subject received identical strength programs throughout the program, consisting of a 3-day per week protocol. All sessions were supervised by a qualified instructor.
There were no significant differences among groups in terms of strength training session compliance. There were also no significant differences among groups in squat strength, body mass, IGF-1 or testosterone. There were also no significant differences in VO2max, maximum running power, or erythropoeitic properties.
There was a significant difference between the antler powder vs. the placebo group in both isokinetic strength and muscular endurance. However, the specific variables hypothesized to influence strength training adaptations did not change, so the results are difficult to explain and the authors noted could have been related to statistical error.
Therefore, this study does not support the use of deer antler velvet powder or extract because no scientific mechanisms could be explained as to why there were some variables that changed significantly and others which did not. More research is clearly warranted due to the growing popularity of this supplement.
The moral of the story at this time is that using deer antler extract or powder is not warranted at this time, as its use is not scientifically supported. Rudolph should be left alone; leave him intact for Santa.
Rather than haphazardly taking supplements that are not supported by research, concentrate on sound training and nutrition programs. With both of these, I'll guarantee you will get results that can't be duplicated by any supplement.