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Is Deer Antler Velvet Banned or Illegal in Sports?

Deer Antler Velvet and IGF-1

The secret is out. Deer antler velvet contains substances that aid in building muscle, increasing endurance and accelerating recovery. Due to their positive effect on sports performance, deer antler velvet products are highly sought after by athletes.

The key to deer antler velvet’s benefits lies in its composition. When antlers are growing, they are loaded with growth factors, particularly IGF-1.

But is the usage of deer antler velvet illegal? Is it a prohibited substance in sports? Below we discuss deer antler velvet’s former status as a banned substance and where it stands today.

World Anti-Doping Agency: IGF-1 is a Banned Substance

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is an international independent agency that facilitates scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC). This code has been adopted by more than 650 sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee and most international professional sports leagues.

According to the WADA and WADC, IGF-1 is a banned substance.

IGF-1 is a well known performance enhancing drug (PED) that has long been prohibited in professional sports. It is a powerful anabolic hormone that triggers muscle protein production and muscle growth. Traditionally, IGF-1 is injected subcutaneously or intramuscularly on a daily basis.

However, it should be noted that IGF-1 is also naturally occurring. It is present in many common foods including dairy products and animal products such as milk, eggs, and red meat. Thus, many people consume IGF-1 on a daily basis.

The Deer Antler Velvet Controversy

Deer antler velvet became a controversial supplement when NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was rumored to have used it to recover from an injury just prior to the Super Bowl in 2012.

Following the report, it was further alleged that the use of deer antler velvet by professional athletes was widespread. It was estimated that up to 40% of MLB players and NFL players took it.

University of Alabama football players also allegedly used deer antler velvet extract leading up to their 2013 National Title Game. 

PGA golfer Vijay Singh admitted that he used deer antler velvet supplements as well.

Under media pressure, WADA stated that deer antler velvet products were illegal in professional sports because they contained the prohibited substance IGF-1. Therefore, all of the athletes that used them were in violation of WADC for doping.

Deer Antler Velvet is Not a Banned Substance

Our assumption is that WADA’s inclusion of IGF-1 on its banned substance list was originally intended to apply only to synthetic IGF-1 that is injected into the body – not to naturally occurring IGF-1 that is consumed. But when pressed to make a determination on deer antler velvet, it hastily flagged it as a prohibited product without a full understanding of what deer antler velvet was.

After further consideration, WADA removed deer antler velvet from its list of banned substances in early 2013.

According to WADA, deer antler velvet is not specifically prohibited. However, the organization stated that because deer antler velvet products might contain IGF-1, athletes should exercise extreme caution because it could lead to a positive test.

Our advice to the pro athletes who are interested in using our deer antler velvet products (there are many) is to determine how their governing body tests for IGF-1, if at all. It is our understanding that there is currently no standardized reference for IGF-1 that anti-doping laboratories use to determine whether someone is or is not utilizing a product like deer antler velvet, that boosts IGF-1.

Furthermore, the half-life of growth factors is less than 24 hours. So discontinuation of deer antler velvet in the days prior to testing would most likely eliminate any possibility to testing positive for IGF-1.

Recreational athletes are free to use deer antler velvet products without regulatory concern. Our products are 100% legal dietary supplements.

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