A recent news story linked Ray Lewis, a linebacker for the Super Bowl-contending Baltimore Ravens, and other prominent athletes to the Alabama company that supplies deer antler spray.
[Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on January 31, 2013.]
Listen to Dr. Congeni with Ray Horner
[News spread recently that Mitch Ross, owner of S.W.A.T.S. (Sports With Alternatives To Steroids) Edge sent deer antler spray and other SWAT products to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis throughout the season to assist with his torn triceps injury. The spray is touted as including IGF-1, a growth hormone banned by the NFL.]
Horner: Captain Tony, you wanted to know about this yesterday, and that was the deer antler stuff pertaining to Ray Lewis. Well, we put our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, to work on this, Tony. Dr. Joe, what did you come up with?
Dr. Congeni: These athletes will go to any lengths, and we know that now. With so much attention focused on sports, between all the different channels, they’ll find almost anything. But, this is a very unusual story. The fact that a lot of athletes — this isn’t just a Ray Lewis thing — are using deer antler velvet spray for performance enhancement to avoid steroid testing and so forth is very interesting.
Horner: What is in this spray, Joe?
Dr. Congeni: They go to New Zealand to [find] a certain type of deer, the Red deer of New Zealand, where they get the antlers. The antler is the fastest-growing substance on planet Earth, they say. So, they get this substance and what it has in it is insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1.
There are a couple of different insulin-like growth factors that are in the body. It is the hormone that is converted from human growth hormone in the liver to insulin-like growth factor 1. It promotes regrowth, regeneration and rebuilding. From that standpoint, this IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) is not something that’s tested for.
Many athletes are using it, and many have come out in the last few days. There’s an association with the Alabama football team before the BCS Championship game last year that’s been written about. Vijay Singh came out yesterday and admitted he’s been using this for over a year, and he didn’t know that it was illegal.
What they have in the Sports Illustrated article that’s going to come out next week, Feb. 4, is they have apparently a taped interview from Ray Lewis with the two owners of this company called S.W.A.T.S. These two are making a ton of money in Birmingham, Alabama. [Sports Illustrated] actually has the evidence from the phone conversation from Ray Lewis, calling this company the day that he tore his triceps muscle. He said that he needed as much as they had available right now of any of the performance-enhancing substances, but particularly the deer antler velvet spray.
The association that is going to come out in the article is that Ray Lewis used that extensively over this six-week period of time before he was able to return to play. Now, what the Baltimore Ravens are saying is that he has never tested positive for anything.
But, the fact of the matter is there is no testing for the IGF-1, so it’s not a part of the drug testing. So, there’s a lot of conversation about it. It’s a very unusual story, but it really tells us I think, Ray, that athletes will go to any lengths to try and gain an advantage.
Horner: Joe, I was going to say, I’m all for medical advancements here, but mixing stuff [between] wild animals and humans just seems like sticky ground and a slippery slope. Are there any concerns that you can see for side effects or anything with this — besides growing horns [laughter]?
Dr. Congeni: You know how those things are, you check them first to see if they work. Then later on, the athletes we find out if there are side effects with them. Obviously, what they are trying to get is the effect from human growth hormone.
We know there’s a lot of human growth hormone, and we know that we’re not ideal in testing it right now. We know there are a lot of people that are manufacturing human growth hormones in a lot of laboratories around the country. But, this actually takes it to the next step.
The hormone that helps athletes the most is insulin-like growth factor 1, and if that’s actually what they have in this deer antler extract, there may be something to it.
There’s only one study out there and it was a very small study. I think it looked at 32 male weight lifters in 2011 and they did show some performance benefit over placebo. But, obviously, athletes will try anything. We have no idea as to the side effects.
One thing about this company is they will guarantee athletes that they will not fail any drug tests while they’re on it. However, there was a big case that I found where there was a professional football player by the name of David Vobora who sued this company because he was positive on a test. He got a $5.4 million settlement last year. So, this company is making a ton of money.
This is a tremendous amount of advertising for this company with what’s going on before the Super Bowl. Most people are using it as a spray that they spray under their tongue twice a day.
It was very rapid in how quickly Ray Lewis was back. He’s trying to play down an injury with a triceps tear that for many athletes is a six- to eight-month injury. I really don’t know exactly what he was using, obviously. We’ll have to continue to follow the story.
Horner: Wow, sounds really interesting, and as you said, Joe, a lot more to come on this story.
Dr. Congeni: Yeah, for guys like you and I, Ray, I mean we really could be rejuvenated in our careers. I mean, there are a lot of teams that need a middle infielder like you. And if we get some of this stuff out there, I think you have a chance this year to hit 20 home runs in the bigs [laughter].
Horner: Hey, I’ve seen you hit the driver off the tee. Have you been spraying some deer antlers[laughter]?
Dr. Congeni: Well, you know what, you and I could have a total rejuvenation of our careers with this deer antler stuff.
Horner: And we both need it [laughter]. Thanks, Joe.
Dr. Congeni: Thanks, Ray.