What is antler velvet?

Antler velvet is a nutritional supplement made from deer or elk antlers. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in some of the ‘building blocks’ of cartilage. It has no major side-effects, but based on the results of two RCTs, there’s no evidence to suggest that antler velvet is effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Family: Nutritional supplement of the Cervidae family
  • Scientific name: Elk velvet antler
  • Other names: Cervus elaphus, deer velvet, velvet deer antler

Antler velvet is made from deer or elk antlers in early stages of their growth (during the velvet stage). In ancient China, antler velvet was used as a sexual tonic. The powdered form is now available in most western countries and marketed as a general tonic, an anti-stress aid and also as a medication for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It's only available to buy outside the UK, but at least one supplier provides an address, contact details and states that they ship to the UK.

How does it work?

Laboratory and animals studies have shown that pilose, a protein found in antler velvet, has an anti-inflammatory effect. Antler velvet is also rich in chondroitin sulphate, collagen and glucosamine sulphate. The properties and make-up of the compound could make it a useful treatment in a variety of types of arthritis.

Is it safe?

No major side-effects have been reported in previous studies on humans lasting six months. Androgenic (male hormone type) side-effects have been noted in animal studies.

The effect antler velvet might have on other medication hasn’t been well studied. In theory, it could interact with sexual tonics and hormonal medications (for example testosterone).

We don't have any evidence on the best dose of antler velvet for arthritis and related conditions.

Trials for rheumatoid arthritis

Two RCTs examined the effect of antler velvet in treating rheumatoid arthritis. It was generally shown to be very well tolerated with no apparent side-effects that forced any participants to stop the medication in both trials.

Trial 1‡

In the first trial, 40 participants were randomly assigned to receive one of the following once a day for a month:

  • 430 mg antler velvet capsules
  • 860 mg antler velvet capsules
  • 1,290 mg antler velvet capsules
  • placebo capsules.

Participants who received antler velvet didn’t show a significant improvement in their disease condition compared to the placebo group.

Trial 2‡

In the second trial, 168 participants were randomly selected to receive either antler velvet or placebo capsules.

Neither group differed significantly with respect to disease activity, pain experience and overall health status after six months of treatment.

‡ A trial of low quality. Results of this trial were given a lower weighting when we came to our conclusion about the compo.