Deer velvet (also known as deer antler velvet, velvet deer antler, and velvet antler, among other names) is an ingredient used in dietary supplement products touted to increase strength and improve endurance. Deer velvet is a soft, velvet-like hair that covers the growing antlers of certain deer, elk, moose, etc. Deer velvet powder in supplements actually can contain various parts of the antler such as bone, cartilage, and skin. The material is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in pharmaceutical and dietary supplement products. The growing antler material contains a variety of hormones, amino acids, minerals, and other compounds, including insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). However, scientific evidence does not support the use of deer antler to improve strength and endurance.

Without laboratory analysis there is no way to know for certain whether dietary supplements that list deer velvet among their ingredients do or do not contain IGF-1, which is on the OPSS list of DoD-prohibited substances. For more information, read the OPSS article about IGF-1.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) does not explicitly prohibit deer antler velvet, but because some deer velvet products might contain the prohibited substance IGF-1, WADA advises that “athletes exercise extreme caution with this supplement because it could lead to a positive test. Athletes who use these types of products do so at their own risk.”

Updated 29 April 2019

References

Conaglen, H. M. (2003). Effect of deer velvet on sexual function in men and their partners: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(3), 271–278. doi:10.1023/a:1023469702627

Cox, H. D., & Eichner, D. (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 27(19), 2170–2178. doi:10.1002/rcm.6678

Lee, N. K., Shin, H. J., Kim, W. S., Lee, J. T., & Park, C. K. (2014). Studies on the chemical constituents of the New Zealand deer velvet antler Cervus elaphus var. scoticus-(I). Natural Product Sciences, 20(3), 160–169. Retrieved from http://kpubs.org/article/articleMain.kpubs?articleANo=E1HSBY_2014_v20n3_160

Sleivert, G., Burke, V., Palmer, C., Walmsley, A., Gerrard, D., Haines, S., & Littlejohn, R. (2003). The effects of deer antler velvet extract or powder supplementation on aerobic power, erythropoiesis, and muscular strength and endurance characteristics. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 13(3), 251–265. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.13.3.251

Xiao, X., Li, L., Xu, S., Mao, M., Pan, R., Li, Y., . . . Zheng, X. (2017). Evaluation of velvet antler total protein effect on bone marrow-derived endothelial progenitor cells. Molecular Medicine Reports, 16(3), 3161–3168. doi:10.3892/mmr.2017.7019