In an ideal world your body would get all of the nutrients it needs from fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed whole foods. Sadly however, because of impoverished soils, chemical residues in crops, factory farming methods, and the industrial processing of foods, it’s highly likely you are deficient in important nutrients.
According the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 90% of Americans have a micronutrient deficiency. A 2006 study "Food Alone May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients for Preventing Deficiency" , published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, analysed the diets of athletes and sedentary subjects and found they all fell short of the minimal Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) micronutrient requirements for preventing nutrient-deficiency diseases, and studies in the UK have reached the same conclusions.
To make matters worse, as we age, our bodies becomes less efficient at metabolising many nutrients, and so older people are more at risk of marginal deficiencies of vitamins and trace elements. An insufficient supply of these vital micronutrients has the effect of accelerating the natural aging process and aggravating the decline of cell renewal processes, immune function, eyesight & hearing, and cognitive performance.
However, with such a bewildering array of super foods and health supplements available, most people have a hard time knowing what they should be taking to help bridge nutritional gaps and protect the body against the ravages of time.
As a health-conscious baby-boomer, I take a number of superfoods to ensure my body gets an adequate supply of micro-nutrients for optimal health and aging, but if I could take only one supplement, it would be Deer Antler Velvet.
Deer antler velvet is a remarkable nutrient-dense superfood, containing 40 key compounds and 400 active ingredients, including the powerful protein IGF-1. Scientists have established that it contains 13 growth factors, 21 amino acids, 20 glycosaminoglycans and many minerals and trace elements, and it's believed these work synergistically in the human body to restore the body's systems to balance.
Known as Lu Rong, it is considered one of 3 treasures in Traditional Chinese Medicine (alongside Ginseng and carex meyeriana grass), where it has been used for over 2,000 years as as a nourishing tonic for curing all deficiency syndromes. In Western Europe and Russia also, it has also been prized for at least 600 years for strengthening the immune system, slowing the aging process, improving blood circulation, and supporting muscle strength and mental alertness.
“Empirical evidence and some clinical research suggests that velvet antler may have therapeutically valuable hypotensive, erythorpoeitic, immune stimulant, antiinflammatory, antiaging, metabolic, protective, and rejuvenative effects (Church, 1999). Today, velvet antler is regarded as a treatment for osteoarthritis, a possible tumor preventive, and for physical and athletic strength and endurance, in both the Orient and in western medicine”. Velvet Antler: A Literature Review, Helen J. Batchelder 
The active ingredients in Deer Velvet are mostly precursors, or building blocks, required by the body to keep it's own systems in balance, maintain health and wellbeing, and stimulate and modulate its natural control systems. It has been shown to provide powerful support for the immune system, and is a natural source of immunoglobulins (otherwise known as antibodies), which fight infection and disease. Its growth factor content provides support for anti ageing, circulatory system health, as well as enhancing energy and stamina.
One of these growth factors is IGF-1. Often mistakenly claimed (usually in body-building blogs) to be the ‘main’ bioactive ingredient in antler velvet), IGF-1 nonetheless plays a vital role, and on it’s own has been shown to have a wide range of benefits for brain, skin, bone, and heart health, along with anti-aging properties.
IGF-1 is a part of the cell division process which aids muscle repair and regeneration when working out, and is so important to growth and development that if an IGF-1 deficiency exists during the crucial time when a child’s body is developing, a stunted stature may result. It’s no surprise then, that deer velvet has long been prescribed in China, Korea and other parts of the world to promote the growth and development of frail children, and to promote immunity and ‘vitality’ of adults - particularly as they get older.
Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs, which cause adverse side effects and often have questionable therapeutic benefits - deer antler velvet on the other hand possesses an astounding array of reported side benefits. Statin drugs are an example of one such class of drugs - and it’s ironic that many of the side-effects of statins , which include joint pain, inflammation, low energy levels, increased risk of serious disease, musculoskeletal disorders, muscle & liver damage, and cognitive decline (themselves often dismissed by doctors as “just the result of getting older”)…are many of the same conditions deer antler velvet is prescribed to prevent or treat in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)!
In fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine deer antler velvet was prescribed for over 50 different diseases, and scientific research carried out since the 1920's confirms many of these benefits. While best known in the western world for use by athletes for supporting strength, endurance and recovery from heavy training and for protecting and restoring joint health, increasingly people are discovering the benefits for general health, including immune function support, blood pressure and cardiovascular health, restoring cholesterol balance, and mood enhancement and improved cognitive function.
While it's effects on the body will probably never be fully understood by western science, there is significant credible research evidence to support the traditional and anecdotal benefits claimed. Studies suggest that deer antler extract can improve energy metabolism and reduce the effects of fatigue through altering the expression of genes related to muscle strength. It is likely there are as yet undiscovered bioactive compounds which may be unique to velvet antler, and current research studies are limited by the fact that many of the reported effects appear firstly to be dependent on an integrated 'whole body system' (something in vitro testing can't show), and secondly, the effects on the body are believed to be due to the synergistic effects of two or more compounds present in velvet antler.
One New Zealand study showed that extracts of antler velvet stimulated the human immune system, as measured by increased white blood cell production, and other studies have shown that deer antler velvet had the ability to stimulate immune cells called phagocytes to destroy invading pathogens. With the looming global health disaster of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and the prospect of no longer being able to cure common infectious diseases such as pneumonia, flu, tuberculosis and sepsis, right now it is vital for us to understand the critical importance of supporting the body’s own defences against stress and disease - our own immune system!
According to the authors of a study done at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, TX, on the contribution of deer velvet antler research to the modern biological medicine : “The international antler research has entered the stage of molecular biology, and will no doubt have a profound impact on the modern biomedical fields, such as regenerative medicine, organ degeneration and dysplasia, trauma medicine and anti-inflammatory treatment, growth factor research, as well as creation of new medical thinking.”
While no food or supplement is right for everyone, (and everything has the potential for adverse side effects), deer velvet is truly unique in its exceptionally high margin of safety compared to most drugs. In fact, none of the modern-day FDA-approved drugs that make billions of dollars in profits for the global pharmaceutical industry even come close to deer antler velvet’s over 2,000 year track record of safe and effective use.
However, despite this long track record, Deer Antler Velvet (like all other natural substances), won’t receive a stamp of approval from the FDA any time soon… the multi-phased, double-blind, randomized clinical trials required for FDA approval are hugely expensive (estimates range from $800 million to $1.4 billion), so no investor will fund them for a natural substance which is un-patentable, and therefor un-profitable.
At the same time, FDA-approved prescription drugs are actually the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer,  and many poisons such as Aspartame (linked with serious health risks including lymphomas, leukemias, and other tumors including kidney tumors as well as seizures, cardiac events and birth defects ), have also been approved by the FDA for use in food products.
Because of components found in deer velvet include chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate, the FDA has, however, approved use of the wording: “it has been substantiated by scientific evidence in compliance with US Food and Drug Administration dietary supplement regulations, that there is a reasonable basis to claim that deer antler velvet helps relieve the symptoms of arthritis by providing "nutritional support for joint structure and function".
While Deer Antler Velvet is truly one of nature’s most remarkable super-foods - with significant credible research evidence  to support claims that it’s use can enhance joint structure and function along with increased vitality, improved cardiovascular health, mood enhancement, and as an effective strength and training aid - it is important to be aware that all deer antler velvet supplements available aren’t equal: the benefits are highly dependent upon the quality of antler used, as well as the processing methods used in the manufacture of velvet antler products.
In order to maximize their profits, producers of inferior products use only the lower calcified portions of the antler, which are considerably cheaper to source than the upper sections, and contain significantly less cartilaginous tissue containing the most important bio-active compounds. According to Michael L. Laughlin in A Summary of Research on Velvet Antler Dietary Supplements, velvet antler processed in whole form appears to provide the widest selection of chemical compounds associated with the benefits claimed in the research he cites. 
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