As you continue to trudge through winter, how are you keeping yourself healthy and protected? If you attended December’s Holistic Health Webinar you will remember our discussion on the skin as our first immune defense barrier. As skin cells age, they make their way to the outer most layers of our dermis, where they harden and become rich in keratin. Keratin is the compound that produces shells and horns, making this our literal armor or shield against invading organisms.
Another way to arm yourself is by taking immunomodulating supplements that fortify and help build immunity from the inside. One such supplement is deer antler. This intriguing substance is not as common in Western Herbalism, but its documented use in Traditional Chinese Medicine goes back 2000 years.*
Deer antler is found in Doctor Morse’s Ultimate Immune Tonic. It is a somewhat controversial ingredient, especially because so many of Doctor Morse’s community are vegetarian and vegan, so we wanted to take a moment to highlight this unique ingredient and discuss our sustainable sourcing practices and its many benefits.
Sourcing Deer Antler
Most supplement companies are seeking out the velvet that grows on the deer’s antlers. Deer antler velvet is the soft, cartilaginous tissue that covers the rapidly growing antlers of deer species. It is rich in various bioactive compounds and is harvested from deer when their antlers are in the "velvet" stage, which occurs during their annual growth cycle.
As you can imagine, harvesting deer and elk antler velvet is very stressful for the animal. The deer/elk are put into corrals where they are made to hold still while someone shaves their antlers, removing the velvet. Luckily, a deer’s antler doesn't contain any nerve endings, so there isn't much pain, but when nicked, the antlers do bleed.
Preferring to have zero impact on deer/elk species, we embrace the natural cycle of shedding that takes place in the late winter to early spring, typically January through April. Our deer antler comes from antlers found on the forest floor. These antlers aren't as rich in velvet, but still have many wonderful benefits.
Deer Antler Benefits
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, deer antler is recorded in the Chinese medical classic Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing written 2000 years ago. It is believed to nourish the Yin, tonify the kidney, invigorate the spleen, and support bones, muscles and healthy blood flow (Wu F et al. ).*
“Antler products are considered to be highly beneficial...and are used to [support] the body’s nonspecific resistance to unfavorable environmental factors, regulate and support the functions of organ systems, enhance endurance and promote quicker recovery (Dorn GA, et al . Review of Antler Supplements: Benefits, Trends, and Potential).” Deer antler supplements contain zinc, iron and protein, Vitamin B and the amino acids Glutamine, Lysine, Methionine + cysteine and Arginine.*
The therapeutic phytochemicals in deer antler support healthy blood pressure, lipid metabolism, and fertility while boosting the immune system. They support genetic stability and promote healthy metabolic processes, including healthy oxygen metabolism, thus supporting healthy thyroid function and natural detoxification (Dorn GA, et al . Review of Antler Supplements: Benefits, Trends, and Potential).*
Here is a breakdown of these therapeutic actions, identifying the active phytochemicals that support these specific physiological processes:
Healthy Blood Pressure: Deer antlers may have vasodilatory effects. While specific phytochemicals responsible for this action are not well-established, certain compounds like flavonoids and triterpenoids found in some species of deer antler may contribute to blood vessel relaxation.*
Healthy Lipid Metabolism: Deer antlers may support lipid metabolism by potentially influencing lipid profiles. Phytochemicals such as flavonoids and sterols found in deer antler could play a role in this action by supporting healthy cholesterol metabolism.*
Fertility: Deer antler is traditionally believed to support fertility, particularly in men. Traditional healers believe that the overall nutrient content in deer antler, including amino acids, minerals, and other compounds play a role in supporting reproductive health.*
Boosting the Immune System: The polysaccharide content in deer antler may be immunomodulating, building immunity and supporting optimum immune cell function and response.*
Healthy Aging: While specific phytochemicals responsible for this action are not well-documented, the overall antioxidant content in deer antler, including flavonoids and phenolic compounds, may help protect DNA from oxidative stress.*
Promoting Healthy Metabolic Processes: Deer antler may promote healthy metabolic processes, including oxygen metabolism, thyroid function, and natural detoxification. The precise phytochemicals responsible for these actions are not clearly identified, but it is possible that various nutrients, minerals, and bioactive compounds in deer antler collectively contribute to these metabolic benefits.*
Ultimate Immune Tonic
Deer antler is showcased in Doctor Morse’s Ultimate Immune Tonic in combination with other wonderful immunomodulating herbs. The formula includes American Ginseng root, Astragalus root, Gotu Kola herb, Schizandra berry and Jujube fruit.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has been used by native peoples in North America for centuries and is believed to be the chief of health-supporting herbs. It is considered an adaptogen due to the presence of bioactive compounds known as ginsenosides which interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, regulating stress hormone levels and supporting a balanced stress response. American ginseng is often referred to as a "cooling" ginseng, meaning it has a calming and nourishing effect on the body, and it is believed to have a milder stimulatory effect compared to Korean ginseng. American ginseng is often recommended for individuals who are more sensitive to stimulants or those looking for a more balanced energy boost without feeling overstimulated or anxious. It is also a good option for individuals with needing adrenal support, characterized by dark circles under the eyes and fatigue (Winston & Maimes, 2007).*
Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) is in the pea family, with a familiar leaf and flower structure to garden pea plants. It has been a mainstay in TCM formulas for thousands of years for supporting immune function and overall vitality. It is also often classified as an adaptogen for its saponin content, which promotes a healthy stress response and supports respiratory expectoration.*
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a low growing perennial herb that creeps along, blanketing the ground in damp, swampy areas of India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, South Africa, and Central and South America where it has a long history of use. Sri Lankans, noting that elephants, renowned for their longevity, eat the plant, began eating a few leaves a day in hopes of increasing their lifespan. In TCM it is considered a “miracle elixir of life." In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is best known as a mental rejuvenator or tonic used to reduce mental fatigue and improve mental clarity (Herbal Gram, Issue 90).*
Schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis) contains high concentrations of lignans and flavonoids, well known antioxidants that support healthy immune system function. One of the key lignans in Schisandra is schisandrin. Schisandrin is believed to have adaptogenic properties, helping the body adapt to various stressors and maintain balance. Schisandrin is thought to interact with neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, supporting a calmer state of mind and improved stress management. Schisandra is rich in organic acids, including citric acid and malic acid, which may play a role in promoting energy production and enhancing physical endurance.*
Jujube fruit (Ziziphus jujuba), also known as red date or Chinese date, is rich in polyphenolic compounds, including flavonoids and phenolic acids, all antioxidants that contribute to health and vitality. This date is also rich in saponins which are known for their immunomodulating effects. Saponins can support the activity of immune cells, such as macrophages, and help regulate the immune response.
As you can see, the Ultimate Immune Tonic includes herbs and substances loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and saponins. This formula is for building up immunity over time. It is a great formula to use as a daily tonic to keep unwanted organisms at bay, but it is not intended to be used once you feel that your immune system has taken a hit. This is when you switch to immunostimulant herbs and herbal formulas like Fire Cider, which support the activation of the immune response.*
A little-known fact about adaptogens and immunomodulators is that even though they are wonderful builders and strengtheners, they can be detrimental if taken when the immune system is compromised. Many traditional Herbalists believe that taking adaptogens during this time may interfere with the body's natural immune response. Some go as far as to say that it can worsen malaise to take these types of herbs during immune imbalances.
Suffice to say, use deer antler and the Ultimate Immune Tonic when you are feeling healthy, and allow these impactful herbs to nourish your vitality and build up your immunity so that the next time an unwanted organism triggers your immune response, you are ready.*
*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.