Heading into the Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis dealt with allegations that he ordered deer antler spray — a banned supplement in the NFL that purportedly boosts testosterone — in order to heal his torn triceps muscle. Lewis has denied using the substance, called IGF-1 plus, which contains deer antler velvet, taken from adolescent deer before their antlers turn to bone. The active ingredient in the velvet extract, which is squirted into the mouth, is insulin-like growth factor 1 or IGF-1, that’s similar in structure to the hormone insulin and has muscle- and tissue-building effects in adults.
Rick Lentini, chief executive officer of Nutronics, which makes IGF-1 plus, told me in an interview that the supplement can enhance athletic performance, and improve a person’s overall health while it also “enhances sex drive, reduces belly fat without muscle loss, and increases strength.”
But endocrinologists say there’s scant research to support these claims. Dr. Martin Miner, co-director of the Men’s Health Center at Miriam Hospital in Providence, said IGF-1 is similar to human growth hormone, which needs to be injected. The body can’t absorb enough of the hormone by mouth since too much gets broken down by the liver during digestion. “I just cannot believe that one could consume high enough quantities of IGF-1 from an oral spray that it would increase healing or enhance athletic ability,” he said.