A High Price for Deer Antler and for Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine

A family trip to Alaska, a lot of time in a van and unexpected lessons on deer antler aka Lu Rong. 

On a family trip to Alaska, we quickly learned Alaska is too big for road trips. However, we did see the most incredible scenery and enjoyed some off the beaten path family activities.  An ingrained family tradition. As the planner of the trip, I decide the family must pay a visit to a reindeer farm just north of Anchorage. Our teens had their i-pods and they are accustom to my crazy ideas of fun, so off we went on the 5 hour round trip drive.  Admittedly, I had an ulterior motive, I wanted to learn about Lu Rong, deer antlers, from a true source, and this was a golden opportunity I couldn’t miss.

In Chinese Medicine, the deer antler also known as Lu Rong is a prized and highly sought after commodity.  Deer antler has been used for hundreds of years for health and  longevity and is considered a yang tonic in Chinese Herbal Medicine.  Reindeer antlers our one source of antlers  however much more commonly used is the smaller breed of Red Deer.  Today the most expensive deer antler is harvested in New Zealand  but Alaska is also a source and prices range anywhere from $100.00 for a 100 gram bottle of  granules to $500.00,  quality can vary widely. I admit, a small ulterior motive, I was investigating whether  importing deer antler might become part of my herb business.

Chinese medicine antlers

Wow, I had no idea the antlers were so sensitive.  In fact, males who commonly fight each other will not touch one another while their antlers are in velvet, a growth stage named for the velvet like fur on the antlers. There is a tremendous amount of blood flow to the antlers which supports this growth and there is a correlation between the head being the most Yang part of the body, the antlers growing from the top of the head  and deer antlers categorized  as a yang tonic. Eskimos have used deer antler soup for it’s internal warming (yang) properties for as long as anyone can document.

 

We arrived at the reindeer farm which was operated by a family (and some hired help), mainly for the purposes of selling reindeer meat. The tourist business is a summer sideline. We paid a small entrance fee and along with two other families with young children were given instructions before we were allowed to enter the main pen and hand feed the reindeer some supplied food. I knew that deer are very skittish, nervous animals by nature and easily startled, but what else I learned was surprising. The number one rule was no touching the antlers of any animal that is “in velvet”.  The reason was simple. The antlers are extremely sensitive when they are growing and just touching the velvety soft exterior, especially at the tips, could freak out the animal and be dangerous for us. We could pet the deer anywhere else exception being, the antlers.

What else I learned; deer antlers, whether reindeer or red deer are not so easy to harvest.  It would seem harmless to saw them off once they are essentially dead and have no more blood flow.  The antlers die naturally every year and either fall off or are broken when the deer fight.  But, deer antlers are harvested when there is still blood flow to them, best when the tips are still rounded which means they are still growing.  Our guides explained they would never harvest antlers while in velvet because it would be like cutting off one of your fingers.  The antler is truly an limb extension of the animal. If  just touching an antler can make the deer skittish what do you thinking cutting off an antler would do to the deer?  Extremely painful to say the least.

This was the moment I decided no matter how much can be earned from deer antlers I could never be part of that industry. If the antlers were used once they are naturally shed by the animals, that would be different.  But by the time the antlers are naturally falling off they are dead, no blood flow no nerve endings. No medicinal value.

To be fair,  I am told  that many people who raise deer exclusively for their antlers as a Chinese medicinal, use a veterinarian to perform the sawing off operation.  Some say they tranquilize the animals and/or provide Novocain. Once the antlers are cut the deer’s head is wrapped in bandages and something is given to reduce the bleeding at the site. Antlers are always harvested when they are at the height of the growth stage. If you have ever seen slices of deer antler the highest grade are red in the middle, from the blood flow. Regardless, once I spent just a few minutes with these beautiful docile creatures, I knew I didn’t want any part of an industry initiating animal cruelty. Yang tonics are great strong medicine.  Chinese Herbal Medicine has plenty of  plant based yang tonics, no animal products would ever be part of Pacific Herbs.

Malaria and how Chinese Medicine is Advancing Science

microscope for malariaIn case you haven’t already heard, today is World Malaria Day,
April 25th, 2009.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Malaria Day than to write  on a Traditional Chinese Medicinal herb and it’s benefits for  malaria. Ok, I know most of us in the west don’t know much or maybe anything about this disease. Some may even be thinking… isn’t malaria one of those plagues from the middle age

Malaria is the number one killer in underdeveloped countries, especially prevalent in Africa where it’s an epidemic. As many as 5 million people each year contract malaria, many recover, many do not. Malaria kills nearly one million people worldwide each year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars for malaria research with the goal of eliminating malaria in our lifetime and by the looks of recent developments, well… read on.

So what does this have to do with Chinese herbal medicine and why did I choose this topic? Malaria has been successfully treated with Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. This is not news, well not to Acupuncturists or Chinese Medical Doctors nor to the scientists and drug companies searching out a cure or a vaccine for malaria. What is news is what Reuters published in an article (yesterday) which I’ve cited below and am quoting here, “elimination (of malaria) in a number of countries is certainly in sight.” Fantastic, right?!

Here’s what really exciting! “New medical treatments such as a drug developed by a Swiss pharmaceuticals company  Novartis using artemisinin, a compound derived from a herb used in Chinese traditional medicine, are driving down deaths and infections, said “Chris Hentschel”  of the Medicines for Malaria Venture.” The FDA has also recently approved the drug Coartem, an artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT) for malaria, which is said to have a 96% cure rate  Can you imagine: A pharmaceutical company using an herb-derived compound? Should we be shocked?

We in the Chinese Medical community are not shocked. We know the use of Chinese Medicinal herbs have been used for centuries with g areat success and we’ve all known that Artemisinin, Qing Hao, has been successfully used in the treatment of malaria. But doesn’t it feels great to be vindicated through “Big Pharma” ? When any big pharmaceutical company decides to study the compounds in “our” (Chinese) medicine cabinet we can all stand proud and say, look big pharma, our herbs have proven compounds that even your labs haven’t been able to invent and there’s more in the medicine cabinet than just Artemisinin.

The credibility of Chinese herbal medicine is coming full circle in the scientific age. We can only hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. The efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine has a 2000 plus year history. Reuter’s goes on to report, “The treatment, administered to 57 million people last year, saved half a million lives last year.” That’s big news! If there was a drug that saved 500,00 people in the US, last year alone, we would be hearing about it. Because it’s in underdeveloped nations, this news doesn’t make the nightly 5 o’clock. But I can think of no better way than to start my blog page with what should be the Biggest News in the world today, especially on World Malaria Day.

Post Script:

A prominent physician and alchemist named Ge Hong (284-364CE) wrote a formulary called Zhou Hou Bei Zhi Fang (Prescriptions within Arm”s Reach for Use in Emergencies) Many of the formulas in this book are still in use today. He was the first to mention qing hao, (Artemisia Annua) as a treatment for malaria.