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The Deer Antler Velvet Supplement Debate

Updated: Wednesday, May 14 2014, 05:00 PM EDT

Deer antler velvet is a dietary supplement a surprising number of athletes, trainers – and now doctors – are turning to. Those who use it believe it improves muscle strength, recovery and boosts energy.

The supplement has been used in China for thousands of years. The premise is thus: a deer’s antlers grow fast, more than an inch a day, could those regenerative qualities transfer over to human beings?

Desperate after his injury, professional ballplayer Adam Greenberg turned to velvet deer antler at the suggestion of one of his doctors.

"I dove for a ball and tore my rotator cuff 90 percent all the way through,” Greenberg said.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked Greenberg how quickly he could feel results after taking the pills.

"Within the first couple days I knew there was something positive going on,” Greenberg said. “Dr. Kwok called me up and he said, ‘How were you playing?' and I said, 'What do you mean?' he said, ‘You don't have a rotator cuff. It's basically non-existent.’"

Intrigued by Adam's story, his orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Patrick Kwok, decided to start testing this on his own.  The first thing he wanted to confirm: safety.

"The first 100, we tracked them fairly closely you know with you know questionnaires, phone calls, to really make sure if there's any adverse effects that can come from taking the product," Kwok said. The first 100 patients they followed had no harmful effects.

“[We saw] increased energy, decreased joint pain and muscle ache, and decreased recovery from injury,” in those they tested, Kwok said. “I think it really boils down to- we didn't invent this. The proof is in the 2000 years of use in Chinese or Asian medicine."

Deer antler velvet is sold now in the United States as liquid drops, capsules, and as a spray. The cost ranges from $30 a bottle to a couple hundred dollars depending on the product and the strength. Because it's sold as a supplement - not a medicine -companies don't have to prove there's any benefit.

Though dozens of other studies haven’t shown a convincing benefit from taking the products, one by Craig Broeder, on strength training, saw a positive effect.

“I had some really positive findings, but it's so small,” Broeder said. “It needs to be repeated with a large number of subjects before i would say you gotta take -- this -- this is a given, this is absolutely going to help you. The biggest effect we saw didn't have anything to do with effective strength. But the biggest effect happened to turn in on the aerobic conditioning side."

Endocrinologist doctor Alan Rogol believes any positive effects are due to nothing more than a placebo effect.

But that doesn't stop Dr. Kwok or the many other doctors who believe deer antler velvet replaces deficiencies we all have.  Dr. Kwok was so impressed he invested in a company that Adam Greenberg and a team of athletes started to sell the product themselves.

But even they acknowledge: the science may not be there and this is by no means a magic potion.

The Deer Antler Velvet Supplement Debate


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