Ray Lewis & Deer Antler Velvet Spray. Does It Really Work?
Ray Lewis & Deer Antler Velvet Spray
Is It This Generation’s Andro and Does It Really Work?
By Joe Pietaro
Nearly 15 years ago, the supplement industry exploded upon the discovery that St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire was using Andro during his record-breaking home run chase. The previously little-known precursor of testosterone was actually a bottled version of androstenedione, which was totally legal, for sale at every vitamin store and not on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list.
So when Associated Press reporter Steve Wilstein noticed a bottle of it inside McGwire’s locker stall after a game during the 1998 season, the inquisitive scribe asked him about it and the story then took on a life of its own. For the purists of the National Pastime, they viewed it as an unfair advantage that paved the way for Roger Maris’s then-37-year-old record of 61 home runs to eventually be not only broken, but also smashed. (By the end of that memorable summer, McGwire hit 70 long balls and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs had 66.)
But there was a large contingent that flocked to their local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe and plunked down their hard-earned money for a bottle. Hey, if it can make a baseball player look like a bodybuilder, then the skies the limit if you already have a muscular build.
Eventually, substances such as Andro were taken off the shelf and it was classified as an anabolic steroid by the United States federal government in 2004. And years following his retirement, McGwire admitted to using substances much stronger than that.
Fast forward to the present and coincidentally; we have another sports superstar mired in a performance-enhancing drug tap dance. Rey Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is enjoying his swan song with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII, but found himself denying the use of deer antler velvet spray instead of talking about his team’s chances of beating the favored San Francisco 49ers.
Sports Illustrated broke the story that Lewis – while rehabbing a torn triceps muscle suffered in October – had been using a product named The Ultimate Spray, manufactured and sold by an Alabama-based company entitled Sports With Alternatives to Steroids, or S.W.A.T.S. for short. The extract reportedly contains IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1), which is on the NFL’s banned substance list.
“No, never,” was Lewis’s response to a question during SBXLVII Media Day if he used the deer antler spray after his latest injury. “I won’t even speak about it.”
Although the claims made by S.W.A.T.S. are reminiscent of an old west snake oil sales pitch, there is no specific scientific proof that using deer antler extract will improve athletic performance. In one 14-week, double blind study, 38 males were split into three groups, with 12 taking 300 milligrams per day of deer antler velvet extract, 13 using 1.5 grams of deer antler velvet powder and 12 taking placebo capsules. The results? No significant difference between them for strength, body mass, IGF-1 or testosterone levels.
“The objective scientific studies do not support their claims,” said Dr. Dan Gwartney, MD, referring to S.W.A.T.S. and what they advertised. “Any company (saying that) should have some measure of success of biological response and can even pay for their own university study. If IGF-1 is actually delivered via a sublingual spray, IGF-1 should appear in the bloodstream within minutes and can be directly measured with available serum assays (blood tests). It’s a simple delivery-response relationship.”
Another aspect touched upon by Dr. Gwartney was the two methods in which the S.W.A.T.S. products are taken. “With the sublingual spray, the delivery to circulation is severely limited, rendering it almost ineffective,” he says. “Oral delivery (pill version) does not deliver the intact hormone. Small fractions that remain after digestion may have bioactive properties, but little would make it to the circulation.”
As far as the actual substance in question, Dr. Gwartney likens the antler velvet, non-concentrated version of IGF-1 to another frequently used by bodybuilders. “It’s unknown if the animal version (of IGF-1) would even be effective in humans,” he says. “Just like pig or cow insulin is not equally effective in humans as ‘human’ insulin.”
Others in the medical community share similar sentiments.
“From an evidence-based medical perspective, deer antler velvet extract has no proven effects," says Dr. Victor Prisk, MD. “The only clinical studies done with any rigor have (not shown otherwise). It’s more of a homeopathic medicine and using it for performance has the same effect as trying to get testosterone from a yam.”
In Dr. Prisk’s opinion, this is just the latest chapter in athletes getting thrown into a media frenzy when connected to anything in the supplement industry, and he mentioned the Hines Ward – Platelet Rich Plasma treatment and the McGwire – Andro scenarios.
“This guy (S.W.A.T.S.) is getting big attention over this,” he says. “Ray Lewis and the week of the Super Bowl? He’s going to sell even more of it now.”
That seems like a given, but the results may not be there.