Even if Ray Lewis did use deer antler spray his body would have never absorbed the banned substance its manufacturer says gives the product its potency, a Johns Hopkins professor said.
Sports Illustrated ran an article online Tuesday that connected the Ravens linebacker to S.W.A.T.S. — Sports with Alternatives to Steroids — a company that has marketed alternative health supplements and products to athletes (ThePostGame, which is led by Pikesville native David Katz and currently staffed by former Sun sports intern Robbie Levin, had the story two years ago). The story quotes S.W.A.T.S. co-founder Christopher Key telling a group of college football players that the company's deer velvet spray contains IGF-1, a hormone that has been banned by most major sports organizations including the NFL.
Dr. Roberto Salvatori, who runs a lab studying growth hormone deficiency and has been on the Hopkins faculty since 1998, said there is no scientifically accepted way to deliver IGF-1 orally.
"If there were, a lot of people would be happy that they don't need to get shots anymore," he said. "It's just simply not possible for it to come from a spray."
IGF-1, short for insulin-like growth factor, is used to treat a rare form of dwarfism known as Laron syndrome and in other cases where children fail to produce or process growth hormone.
It occurs naturally in the body and is actually produced as a result of the increased presence of human growth hormone, one of the performance enhancers allegedly used by cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Dozens of websites advertise deer antler spray or pills with claims of delivering IGF-1 and subsequent benefits like muscle growth and increased energy. But Dean Nieves of Florida-based Bio Lab Naturals said it is disingenuous to make such claims.
"IGF-1 is very unstable," said Nieves, whose company sells the spray under the Bio Protein Technology brand. "It could not exist outside of a very controlled environment. And when you order bottles of deer antler extract, it's not coming in a freeze-dried case."
Nieves, who studied nutrition, food and exercise science at Florida State, is the first to extol the virtues of deer velvet, a supplement that has been used in China for thousands of years. His company mentions IGF-1 prominently in its marketing material but only because it is integral to the yearly re-growth of antlers, he said. By the time the harvested antlers are broken down and processed to be sold the substance is essentially an uncomplicated, "super-concentrated" and natural protein.
"We registered our product with the FDA as a food product, it's that natural," Nieves said. "It is just packed with nutrients."
The extract is made by clipping still-growing antlers on deer or elk and then extracting those nutrients. Some companies say they grind the antlers, while others say they freeze dry or cook them.