Elk Velvet Antler (EVA) has been harvested annually for hundreds of years by farmers in China, and Russia, and more recently in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the United States, and Canada. Velvet antler grows at an incredible rate of speed. In fact, of all living tissues, only some mushrooms grow faster than antler. It is considered the perfect renewable resource because of its ability to grow back year after year. From the time the velvet antler begins to grow until the time it is harvested is about two to three months. In that short time period, an elk bull may grow as much as 60 pounds of antler! That kind of growth of nutrient - dense material is almost magical.

EVA is harvested each year of a bull's productive life, which lasts from age two to about age fifteen. Producers watch carefully and record the date that each of a bulls' antler "buttons" are shed. This usually happens in February and March. The usual growth period before optimum harvest date is 55 to 90 days. The target is maximum growth before the antler begins to calcify, or turn into bone. Each bull is different from the rest of the herd. Producers need to keep excellent records, and get to know when to cut each bull for best returns. On the right day, the bull is brought into the handling facility and carefully restrained in a hydraulic squeeze chute. The antlers are then quickly but humanely removed. Typically, there is very little blood loss. If the whole process is done quickly and calmly, the elk do not get too excited. This reduces any stress effects, keeps the heart rate low and ensures that bleeding stops very quickly. The elk are released to their pasture, where they usually shake their head a few times as they get used to the feeling of having that weight missing, then resume grazing and other normal behaviour. Removal of antlers does not affect the bull's breeding ability in any way. The cows still think he's handsome!

Antler is the fastest growing animal tissue - a totally unique substance. This unique chemistry is captured by carefully and humanely removing the antler near the end of its rapid growth stage and carefully drying either the entire antler or a slurry made by grinding the entire structure minus the velvet hair. (The actual velvet is of no value.) New food - grade processing methods ensure that antler products are free of any dangerous bacteria or other contaminants.

The amazing growth rate of velvet antler (up to 3 cm. per day) suggests the presence of valuable nutraceutical compounds:

- Growth stimulators
- Circulation enhancers
- Inflammation controllers
- Building blocks of cartilage and bone, including glucosamine and chondroitin

Traditional uses of velvet antler:

- Enhance metabolism
- Restore damaged body tissues
- Enhance function of the immune system
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce the symptoms of arthritis
- Counteract the effects of stress
- Slow the aging process

Who is using Elk Velvet Antler (EVA)?

- People from Asia, or with that ethnic background, have traditionally been the primary consumers of EVA
- Use of holistic medicine and nutraceuticals has become widespread amongst North Americans of all ethnic  origins - estimated to be a $5 billion industry in NA last year

Antler Products for the Treatment of Arthritis

Dr. Jeong S. Sim, and Dr. Hoon H. Sunwoo

Designer Food Research Program for Health (Antler Research Center)

Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science,

University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2P5

Ph: 403/492-7687, Fax: 403/492-9130, Email:jsim@afns.ualberta.ca

Antler has been an essential ingredient in herbal medicine for thousands of years. It is used for preventative and curative purposes in the treatment of wounds, pain, arthritis, inflammation, stress, and even to slow the aging process. It is timely and of great importance to explore the ancient medicinal claims from traditional medicine by using modern scientific research tools and methodologies. The immediate goal is to lay the foundation of a collaborative Research and Development program between universities and supportive groups from the North American antler industry. The Canadian elk industry has contributed keen interest and financial support to the University of Alberta research group to explore the potential use of antler products in the treatment of a variety of human illnesses. The purpose of this article is to share some research progress made to date.

Chemical Characteristics of Antler: Growing antlers are composed of different types of tissues including cartilage and bone - like tissues. Antlers contain collagen as a major protein, and are rich in glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). GAGs are composed of units of amino sugar like D-glucosamine or D-galactosamine. Most glycosaminoglycans are attached to core proteins to form proteoglycans. It is universally understood that cartilage proteoglycans regulate water retention, and differentiation and proliferation of chondrocytes in the cartilaginous tissue. Chondroitin sulfate is the major GAG in antler, accounting for more than 90% of total GAGs. Studies show a wide distribution of chondroitin sulfate throughout the antler, with a concentration of keratan sulfate in the cartilaginous portions. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are currently widely used by arthritis sufferers, with substantial beneficial effects.

Processing Technology: To assist North America's elk industries, a series of preliminary investigations has been undertaken at the University of Alberta (Product Technology Laboratory) since 1994. Initially, our research group was approached by the Canadian elk industry to describe the biochemical composition of fresh antlers and to develop a food - grade drying process. Since then, our research has progressed beyond characterizing the chemical composition and physical properties of velvet antlers to the development of procedures for extracting and purifying glycosaminoglycan-rich fractions which include chondroitin sulfate as a major glycosaminoglycan, and keratan sulfate, dermatan sulfate, heparan sulfate and hyaluronic acid as minor components. Further characterization of glycosaminoglycan-rich antler (GAGRA, or Glycosant) showed a potent growth-promoting effect. Feeding Glycosant to growing rats stimulates bone development by increasing femur length, thickness and mineral content. Research findings on Glycosant and related basic research to date have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. A simple and economical procedure to extract glycosaminoglycan-rich antler (Glycosant) product from fresh velvet antlers has been developed and now is available for commercial production. This technology is capable of producing large industrial quantities of uniform quality food and nutraceutical grade Glycosant.

Osteoarthritis (OA): Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease of cartilaginous tissue that affects over 50 million North Americans. Natural osteoarthritis occurs in human and a variety of animal species including horses, pigs, dogs and rabbits. It is characterized by a loss of proteoglycans, damage to the cartilage surface, and eventually loss of the collagenous matrix to expose underlying bone. Proteoglycans consist of a protein core to which are bound long chains of glycosaminoglycans (GAG), mostly chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate. Matrix proteoglycans play an important role in the structural integrity of cartilage. Recently, a new concept for treating OA patients by oral ingestion of glycosaminoglycan complex has been suggested, in which the treatment aim is to stimulate cartilage repair and, at the same time, inhibit cartilage breakdown. This concept has been termed "chondroprotection" and one potentially effective source of these chondroprotective agents is antler GAGs and their breakdown components like glucosamine sulfate.

Chondroprotective Therapeutic Function: Current therapy for patients with OA is primarily aimed at reducing pain, retarding inflammation, and maintaining joint function. Treatments currently in use have not been shown to modify the destructive processes that occur in the tissue. Recently, a new concept has been advocated, in which the aim of treatment is to stimulate cartilage repair and, at the same time, inhibit cartilage breakdown by using chondroprotective agents. Glucosamine sulfate, a major component of Glycosant, is orally administered to stimulate biosynthesis of cartilaginous tissue and to inhibit its degradation. Efficacy and safety of these agents have been repeatedly proven in randomized, placebo-controlled double-masked studies in the treatment of OA. Therapeutic treatment with glycosaminoglycan-peptide complex also showed favorable chondroprotective effects on OA in both animal and human models. But the mechanism by which GAGs exert their chondroprotective effects on OA has not been fully investigated. The metabolic fate of orally ingested GAGs at the four different metabolic compartments (intestinal absorption site, serum, urine and fecal excreta) must be investigated using sensitive techniques.

We are currently undertaking a series of experiments:

1. to determine the metabolic fate and bioavailability of orally administered Glycosant products in rats.

2. to assess the chondroprotective efficacy of orally administered Glycosant products to surgically induced osteoarthritis in rabbits.

3. to conduct a randomized placebo controlled clinical trial of Glycosant product in the treatment of osteoarthritis patients in collaboration with University Hospital (Rheumatology)

We will provide status reports to the antler industry and the medical communities as results become available. Thank you all for your continuing support.


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2. Banks, W. J. 1974. The ossification process of the developing antler in the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Calc. Tiss. Res. 14:257-274.

3. Sunwoo, H. H., T. Nakano, R. J. Hudson, and J. S. Sim. 1995. Chemical composition of antlers from wapiti (Cervus elaphus). J. Agric. Food Chem. 43:2846-2849.

4. Sunwoo, H. H., L. Y. M. Sim, T. Nakano, R. J. Hudson, and J. S. Sim. 1997. Glycosaminoglycans from growing antlers of wapiti (Cervus elaphus). Can. J. Anim. Sci. 77:715-721.

5. Sunwoo, H. H., T. Nakano, R. J. Hudson, and J. S. Sim. 1998. Characterization, isolation, and localization of glycosaminoglycans in growing antler. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. in press:.

6. Howell, D. S. 1986. Pathogenesis of osteoarthritis. Am. J. Med. 80:24-28.

7. Doege, K. J., M. Sasaki, T. Kimura, and Y. Yamada. 1991. Complete coding sequence and deduced primary structure of the human cartilage large aggregating proteoglycan, aggrecan-human specific repeats, and additional alternatively spliced forms. J. Biol. Chem. 266(2):894-902.

8. Lotz, M., and P. A. Guerne. 1991. Interleukin-6 induces the synthesis of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-1/erythroid potentiating activity (TIMP-1/EPA). J. Biol. Chem. 266:2017-20.

9. Dean, D. D., W. Azzo, J. Martel-Pelletier, J. P. Pelletier, and J. F. Woessner Jr. 1987. Levels of metalloproteases and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases in human osteoarthritic cartilage. J. Rheum. 14:43-44.

10. Dean, D. D., O. E. Muniz, I. Rodriquez, M. R. Carreno, S. Morales, A. Agundez, M. E. Madan, R. D. Altman, M. Annefeld, and D. S. Howell. 1991. Amelioration of lapine osteoarthritis by treatment with glycosaminoglycan-peptide association complex (Rumalon). Arthritis and Rheumatism. 34:304-313.

11. D'Ambrosio, E., B. Casa, R. Bompani, G. Scali, and M. Scali. 1981. Glucosamine sulphate: a controlled clinical investigation in arthrosis. Pharmath. 2:504-508.

12. Palmieri, L., A. Conte, L. Giovannini, P. Lualdi, and G. Ronca. 1990. Metabolic fate of exogenous chondroitin sulfate in the experimental animal. Arzneim. Forsch. 40:319-23.

13. Conte, A., M. de Bernardi, L. Palmieri, P. Lualdi, G. Mautone, and G. Ronca. 1991. Metabolic fate of exogenous chondroitin sulfate in man. Arzneim. Forsch. 41:768-772.

14. Sunwoo, H. H., T. Nakano, and J. S. Sim. 1997. Effect of water-soluble extract from antler of wapiti (Cervus elaphus) on the growth of fibroblasts. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 77:343-345.

A recent study of American weight-lifters taking velvet antler supplements showed positive results. The subjects in the Benedictine University study were 34 men from 18 to 35 years of age. Each had at least four years of weight lifting experience.

In this double-blind study, the experimental group was given 1,350 mg of velvet antler powder twice a day while the placebo group was given an inert substance. Before and immediately after the ten-week experiment, the subjects were put through a series of tests and measurements.

At the end of the research trial, the weight lifters that had been taking the velvet antler had:

- Less fat on their torsos
- Lower LDG cholesterol levels
- Greater aerobic capacity
- Less muscle damage
- Greater strength
- Greater stamina.

The researchers found that by the end of the trial, the athletes on velvet antler had reduced the trunk to limb fat ratio from 104.7 to 101.0. There was no measured effect on weight or body mass indices. The significance of this, according to Dr. Craig Broeder the lead researcher, lies in the influence of fat deposition patterns on the risk of heart disease. Increased fat around the trunk is a major cardiovascular risk factor.

The group taking velvet antler also showed a significant decline in LDL cholesterol concentrations by 12.2 per cent. As a result, the LDL/HDL (good/bad cholesterol) ratio also declined 8.4 per cent. This would reduce the group's risk of cardiovascular disease. There was also some evidence that the velvet antler was effective in lowering blood pressure. There were no negative effects observed for the liver and kidney enzyme markers.

In terms of muscle strength, the group taking the velvet antler showed a significant improvement in bench press (4.2 per cent) and squat exercise (9.9 per cent) performance. The placebo group showed no change.

The peak power of the velvet antler group reduced only 0.5 per cent during the anaerobic trials, compared with 3.2 per cent reduction in the placebos. Their average power reduced by 2.1 per cent compared with 5 per cent. They were also about 60 per cent quicker in reaching peak power.

A particularly interesting result was the effect of velvet antler on aerobic capacity. In absolute terms and relative to body weight, it increased significantly 9.8 per cent and 9.4 per cent respectively. There was no change in the placebo group. Additionally, during a maximal treadmill test, most subjects in the velvet antler group had a reduced heart response of 5 to 8 beats per minute.

Other benefits of velvet antler were reduced muscle damage and a dramatic improvement in the rate of repair of any muscle damage that did occur. Muscle damage was measured by blood levels of creatine kinase (CK). CK is an enzyme found in cells which helps them source energy during exercise. During anaerobic exercise, some muscle cells break open and their contents find their way into the bloodstream. A rise in CK levels in the blood indicates that muscle damage has occurred, or is occurring. In the velvet antler group, CK levels were 25 per cent lower than the baseline, compared with 11 per cent with the placebos. Two days later, CK levels in the experimental group were 45 per cent below the baseline.

A side finding of this study was that velvet antler may have a potential for the prevention of osteoporosis. The placebo group appeared to lose bone density during the study, which indicated they were over-training. The experimental group retained bone density.

Dr. Broeder says that all the results are very significant differences, especially for athletes who were already extremely fit and training at a high level. Although it was a double-blind study, the ones taking velvet antler knew within two or three weeks that they were taking something really different.

According to Dr. Broeder, more studies are needed to confirm these benefits in athletes and average adults. He is particularly interested in seeing whether velvet antler could help reduce weight and risks of cardiovascular diseases among middle-aged couch potatoes and non-athletes.

[Source: NZ The Deer Farmer April 2004]

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