What's the deal with Deer Antler Velvet?

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Dear Pharmacist: My hero is Ray Lewis of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and I heard he took Deer Antler Velvet to recover from his muscle injuries faster. Do you recommend this? — D.D., Baltimore, Md.

Dear D.D.: I've never recommended Deer Antler Velvet extract, but it's sold at health food stores and online. It was thrust into the Super Bowl spotlight with reports alleging Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis used it to recover from a torn tricep injury.

The dietary supplements (when authentic) harvest antler velvet from growing deer, moose, elk and caribou. The antlers are removed from the animal before they form solid bone, and the velvet is removed. After processing, the extract contains calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen, all of which support bone health. It is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Football League because it contains IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), a hormone that boosts testosterone. It's the IGF-1 that is banned, not deer antler. IGF-1 is a totally natural growth hormone, so IGF-1 is not bad. It happens to increase muscle strength and improve muscle recovery while breaking down carbs faster.

Antler velvet also tends to mildly increase levels of your sex hormone testosterone. But erectile dysfunction is often a sign of coronary artery disease, so to mask it with a supplement or drug that gets your motor started doesn't make sense to me. As for women, Deer Antler Velvet supplements may increase estrogen levels. If you're low in estrogen and need it for menopausal concerns, I guess you could ask your doctor about it. But if you are normal or high, that's a major problem. These supplements contain estrogen compounds so it could worsen hormone-sensitive conditions such as uterine fibroids or cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical problems, endometriosis, fibrocystic breast disease or breast cancer. I simply can't find solid studies to recommend it.

This is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Go to SuzyCohen.com.

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