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by Arielle Zerr

Athletes are always looking for a competitive edge and Regina resident Dave Limacher is looking to cash in on what has become a controversial grey area of natural hormone-boosters.


Limacher is the owner of Vigr, a Saskatchewan company that produces elk antler pills, a similar product to the deer antler spray recently tied to Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis and PGA Champion Vijay Singh.


Limacher began selling the product after taking the product as part of a weight loss challenge at work.


“I was inspired to find out the optimum lifestyle. I thought there’s got be a perfect way to balance health and eating and exercise. There’s got be an optimum pill that a person can take that can do everything the body needs. And it was elk velvet antler,” he said.


It was his personal experience that inspired Limacher to start Vigr and begin selling elk antler pills. The majority of the elk antlers come from local Saskatchewan elk farmers who harvest the antlers for Vigr’s supplements. Vigr is certified by Health Canada and, according to Limacher, elk antler pills include a number of naturally occurring minerals like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and zinc and they also speed healing, boost white blood cell counts and promote cell growth.


Elk antler pills also stimulate a natural growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1, which is what’s causing controversy in professional sports. Professional sports organizations including the NFL, MLB and PGA as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency – which determines the banned list for the Olympic games - have banned IGF-1.


The ban does not include elk antler pills specifically, just the IGF-1 that occurs in it.


“IGF-1 is banned by taking it itself, or with growth hormone. Growth hormone is naturally produced in the body but when you take it synthetically it can increase production of IGF-1 and that’s a main precursor to protein synthesis which can lead to an increase in muscle mass. Therefore the person appears stronger, bigger, faster,” explained University of Regina Kinesiology professor Darren Candow, who studies athlete performance.


“The controversy is a hormone derivative or insulin-like growth factor is illegal in certain circumstances. (Elk antler pills are) an artificial derivative that you’re taking to enhance a natural increase in hormonal response. You wouldn’t get that naturally,” he said.


Candow says he’s not sure if elk antler pills should be banned from professional sports, even though many professional sports agencies have already banned one of its ingredients. “As it stands right now there’s a lot more research that needs to be done on it before we can make any decisions,” he said.


But Candow stresses that if IGF-1 has been banned by your sport, athletes should not risk taking it.


Rick Hubick, Manager of Old Fashion Foods on Rochdale Boulevard, was not aware of the controversy surrounding elk antler pills. He said that he’s been carrying the product for a few years now because his customers want it.


“They like it for the extra energy,” Hubick said.


Limacher, on the other hand was happy to hear that athletes like Lewis were tied to using deer antlers as a supplement. “The world seems to revolve around the word-of-mouth marketing. (Lewis) raised awareness. Sales were great before but this has really helped. And we get a lot of repeat business,” Limacher said.


But until there have been more studies on the effects of elk antler pills on athletes’ performance the ban on products related to IGF-1, such as Limacher’s, isn’t likely to change.