Sorry Rudolph

by Jeanine Adinaro on December 22, 2010

in General Health

Don't Ask How They Get the Velvet Antlers

Various forms of deer antler show up in Chinese herbal medicine prized for supporting good circulation, encouraging healthy tendons and bones, and tonifying Kidney Yang, or, as my father puts it, “helping with old man disease.” You know, creaky knees and junk that don’t work quite as readily or well as it used to.

A family friend, we’ll call her Gimpy Gal, came to me with terrible osteoarthritis in her right knee. Thanks to incident in the 5th grade that involved her winning a limbo contest and a sore loser kicking her in the knee, she had undergone multiple surgeries in her lifetime to repair damage and remove scar tissue. Now on the verge of social security eligibility, her long-time compensatory caddy wompus walk caused her chronic low back pain too. A friend at her office suggested she try deer antler because, “It’s supposed to be good for arthritis and knee pain.”

At the time I was giving her acupuncture treatment in hopes that we could delay her inevitable knee replacement surgery. She asked my opinion of the caribou antler she found available from a farm in far northern Canada. We talked a a bit about the role of deer antler in Chinese medicine, how it was certainly applicable to her situation, and off I went to do some investigation.

As it turns out, the Chinese herbal masters weren’t the only ones who noticed the usefulness of deer antler for joint pain and “other problems”, especially those that are worse in cold weather. The Inuit of North America have been feeding it to their sled dogs since, well, they figured out hitching up dogs to sleds would make things go faster. A conversation with one of the Canadian elk farmers yielded an interesting piece of information- the majority of his production is exported to China. As it turns out, while there are a couple of commonly used deer species, any old member of the cervid* family will do, and the most important quality is how far north the creature was living when it grew and subsequently gave up its antlers.

I told Gimpy Gal to give it a shot, advised her as to what to look for in terms of adverse reaction, and let me know how it all worked out. She showed me the capsules when they arrived. While not much to look at- imagine if you took the velvet off deer antler and ground it up- the smell was something that would definitely appeal to a sled dog. It had a strong, greasy 8 day old cooked meat smell to it. Thank goodness it was encapsulated.

The capsules definitely helped with her knee pain. Between them and the acupuncture, she was able to visit her son in Switzerland for a week prior to her knee replacement surgery. Unfortunately, the capsules were not without their side effects. The most comical of which occurred when she was returning from Switzerland and trying to clear customs in New York. The (very) young man inspecting her bags found the capsules, opened them, smelled them, made a predictable face and said, “Ugh. What are these?”

Gimpy Gal patiently explained their origin and why she took them, and how much they had helped her knee pain. Customs Dude said, “I don’t know if I should let these through.”

Having listened carefully to my comments on the use of deer antler in traditional Chinese herbs, Gimpy Gal added, “They are also great for impotence. Do you need some?”  Customs dude turned an appropriate shade of crimson and threw them back in her bag. Gimpy Gal was encouraged to move along quickly.

The velvet caribou antler also made Gimpy Gal’s hot flashes worse- it was just too yang for her constitution to be taking it straight. I encouraged her to start taking a different formula that contains deer antler collected after the deer has naturally shed the antlers. The calcified antler form is better for improving circulation and reducing swelling than velvet antler, but less useful for junk that doesn’t work.

Not to mention, I can’t help but think that naturally shed antler collection is  a little nicer to the deer. Supposedly the farmers use anesthesia when they are cutting off the immature antlers. But considering that their big antlers are how the boy deers communicate to the girl deers that their junk is working and ready to go, how embarrassing.

Photo by Todd Huffman

*any member of the deer family, Cervidae, comprising deer, caribou, elk, and moose, characterized by the bearing of antlers in the male or in both sexes

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: