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Deer Antler Spray: Does It Really Work For Building Muscle?

I received an email yesterday from a former client asking me about my opinion of deer antler spray for building muscle mass. Interestingly enough I had just listened to a radio ad this morning on the way into work from a local supplement retail store here in Charleston that was promoting MK 677.

Instead of just replying with a quick answer I figured I’d do a blog post on this subject, since I’m sure I have other readers who would like to be in the know.

The whole idea of using deer antler spray was relatively unknown until it burst onto the scene last year around the time of the Superbowl when it came out that (allegedly) former Baltimore Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis was using the product.

Regardless of whether he took the product or not, the media frenzy has certainly helped create more sales. It’s a hot product right now, as evident by supplement retailers spending money on radio ads to promote it.

But the interesting side of this is what the product is being hyped up for….helping to build muscle. Huh? I thought Ray Lewis (again allegedly) was taking the product to help recover from a torn triceps injury.

No matter, the supplement companies knew they had something since deer antler velvet supposedly contains IGF-1 (insulin growth factor) and to the uneducated masses they could easily hype up claims of enhanced muscle growth.

Oh, the snake oil salesman of yesteryear still remains, they’ve just changed from side show peddlers to million dollar corporations with hefty marketing budgets.

Let’s dig into what makes this the latest scam to hit the supplement industry.

More after the jump…

What in the world is deer antler spray?

I’ll break this down real simple. Deer antler spray is made from the velvetlike tissue that covers the antlers of male deer in part of a yearly cycle where the deer’s antlers are grown and shed. Eastern medicine has long held the belief that the velvetlike tissue contained homeopathic properties.

The funny thing is Eastern medicine has always used it for repair/recovery (like with joint injuries, ailments, etc) and not for bodybuilding purposes.

So where does IGF-1 enter the picture?

Well a group of researchers, headed by Dr. Peter Fennessy of the Invermay Research Center in New Zealand discovered that high levels of IGF-1 were found in deer blood during the antler growth period as well as in IGF-1 receptors in the antlers.

Ok, so in some bizarre “connect the dots” thinking, some savvy marketers picked up on this and figured they could get you to believe that the IGF-1 could be extracted from the deer antler velvet and with a delivery mechanism to humans (oral spray), you’d have a natural source of growth factors to help improve muscular development.

Where do I even begin with this bunch of B.S?

Let’s start with the first and most important factor…the idea of IGF-1 being a catalyst for muscular growth. This is a subject rife with misconception as IGF-1 is not what some make it out to be. I’ve been studying this stuff for over twenty years, but with a short crash course in endocrinology anyone could quickly see the disconnect.

IGF-1 is produced primarily by the liver as well as in muscle tissue in a paracine/autocrine fashion. Production of IGF-1 is stimulated by growth hormone (GH) and can be inhibited by growth hormone insensitivity, lack of hormone receptors, and other issues with receptor pathways.

But under normal conditions IGF-1 stimulates systemic body repair and growth (muscle, cartilage, bone, liver, kidney, skin, etc) working in conjunction with GH.

But here is something a lot of people don’t know and a fact that rarely gets brought up…

Growth hormone secretion is part of a negative feedback loop involving IGF-1. High blood levels of IGF-1 signals the body to decrease secretion of growth hormone not only by directly suppressing the somatotroph, but by also stimulating the release of somatostatin from the hypothalamus.

I know…I know this is getting technical, but let me simplify.

Even if you were able to significantly increase plasma levels of IGF-1 (not that deer antler spray has shown to do this), it wouldn’t necessarily be a positive thing for muscle growth as you’d be inhibiting growth hormone secretion.

IGF-1 works in conjunction with GH, but it’s a synergistic relationship with built in checks and balances. If you were to introduce more of it into the bloodstream, the body would pick up on it and inhibit growth hormone secretion.

In short, you’re not going to take IGF-1 and magically get bigger biceps.

Most experts will agree that IGF-1 main role is limited primarily to developmental growth and regenerative repair (assisting with recovery, repair, rebuilding).

In adults, the way you train, your diet as a whole, post-workout nutrition, and the quality of your rest/recovery all play a role in GH and IGF-1 doing their thing in optimal fashion.

There’s no benefit in trying to “enhance” things by giving your body more of a particular role player in the growth/rebuilding process. If you’re not careful this could backfire and have the opposite effect.

Ok, even if you’re not convinced that IGF-1 won’t help get you huge, there’s still some inherent problems to get around.

For starters, there is no medically valid way to deliver IGF-1 orally or in a spray. IGF-1 is very unstable and could not exist outside of a very controlled environment. Delivering IGF-1 orally would result in it being broken down into amino acids and not entering the receptor pathways intact.

If IGF-1 was able to be delivered via the bloodstream to the receptor pathways intact, you should be able to see that with a simple blood test in a matter of minutes. Something that we’ve yet to see in ANY of the research studies cited by supplement manufacturers.

You find such research let me know. I won’t be holding my breath though as there’s probably good reason for why we haven’t seen it yet. They can’t show it.

The bottom line…

Don’t buy this stuff ya’ll, you’re only going to get fleeced out of some hard earned cash that could have gone towards some high quality whey protein or whatever.

Deer antler spray may have some nutrients and who knows maybe there are some compounds that could assist with injury repair/recovery, but it sure as heck won’t be helping you to build bigger pecs or boost your bench press.

Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise by citing scientific research you’d do well to exam the sources. Chances are it will be “broscience” and not from credible medical journals.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t be ingesting products that have little research on their effects and safety in the first place. That’s akin to being a guinea pig with you being the only one at possible risk.

If it comes out a year from now or whenever that deer antler spray is harmful, the companies that produced it will close down shop, empty their bank accounts, and start over again with the next big thing.

You want an edge on boosting growth related hormones, then go into the gym tonight and do a HEAVY set of barbell squats to parallel for 20 reps. That should pretty much take care of it.

Once you peel yourself off the floor, go eat a good meal and go to bed. Nature will do it’s thing.

No spray needed. But then again, doing work like this requires grit determination and mental toughness. It’s the reason more guys are lining up at the counter at the local supplement store looking for the “edge,” than there are guys waiting in line to get into the squat rack.

There won’t be much of a line at the squat rack, and the results will be much better.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS  is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on middle age body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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