CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Take two spritzes of deer antler spray and call me in the morning

One supplement maker says the product is being used by hundreds of pro athletes. Our intrepid columnist tries it out for himself.

I've used deer antler spray for two days now, and I've rarely felt better, though I do find myself with an overwhelming urge to grind my itchy noggin against big birch trees, and last night, as someone pulled into the driveway, I just suddenly froze in the high beams.

Does deer antler spray really work? Obviously.

Or it could be the latest take on snake oil. To find out, I'm testing the legal product personally. So far, there are no signs of aggression, a reported side effect of these so-called IGF-1 supplements. Though I have had a little problem with ticks.

Such deer antler supplements made the news this week when Sports Illustrated reported that, back in October, injured Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis sought help from a company that makes the product. Lewis, since recovered, denies using deer antler spray. But the issue lingers, in the increasingly comic world of pro sports, where any edge counts.

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One manufacturer has since told The Times that hundreds of pro athletes use the stuff, even though it's banned at the college and pro levels. Golfer Vijay Singh is among the few athletes admitting to having used it.

As are most things, good and bad, deer antler spray is easily available on the Internet. Took me two minutes to order it and two days for it to arrive at the door.

It sits now next to my keyboard. "Deer antler velvet extract," the 1-ounce bottle says. "Consume two or three times daily as needed."

Generally, there is no improving me — preachers, teachers and bosses have all tried. I either reached my zenith early or was never capable of one.

But I tore my schnitzel the other day, a close cousin of the hamstring that runs from the back of the tongue to my alternator.

So what the hey ... spritz, spritz. Yum.

For the record, deer antler tastes like the side of my barbecue, were it laced with lemon and potassium sorbate.

If there's a serious side to this whole silly Lewis controversy, it's that more athletes appear to be turning to such substances as an alternative to steroids.

The deer antler supplements are based on something called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which is produced naturally by the human liver. At normal levels, it stimulates bone and tissue growth. For added performance, weight lifters reportedly add it to their diets to promote tissue recovery. In Asia, deer antler is second only to ginseng as an herbal boost, supplement makers say.

What concerns pro and college sports officials is that these are essentially growth hormones. The potential effects of concentrated synthetic forms are an added concern. Such turbocharged versions bombard the brain and liver with harmful hormonal signals.

That, say makers of the more popular supplements, is far from the small-dosage, all-natural product that I'm trying. And, apparently, so are many of your favorite stars, who like IGF-1 because it usually doesn't show up in urine tests.

"There are hundreds of players using this stuff, in the MLB ... in the NFL, in several Olympic sports," says Dean Nieves, vice president of research and development for Bio Lab Naturals Inc.

"I keep hearing spray, spray, spray," he says of the type cited in the Lewis reports. "It doesn't work that way. You have to get it in alcohol. As soon as you put it into one of those sprays, it destroys the raw material."

Squirt, squirt ... sigh.

Just my luck, because that's what I've been using for two days. So I turned to my vet … I mean my doctor, for tips.

"Deer antler spray?" asked Glendale internist Steve E. Kasper. "Most of that stuff is harmless, but you never know what they ground up with the antler. Twigs? Bark? Rhino horn? Plastic bags?

"A better treatment for a torn muscle is rest, ice or heat and Tylenol," Kasper wrote in an email, adding that Bud Light applied internally can also help.

Remarkably, I happen to have some of that too.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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