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Antlers up, ginseng down in Korea's energy booster market

Antlers are catching up on ginseng in South Korea's nutritional supplement markets as top ingredient. / Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

By Ko Dong-hwan

Ginseng has been dominating South Korean nutritional supplement markets, coming in various types like pills, above. / Korea Times file
Ginseng has long dominated South Korea's nutritional supplement market but a new player is capturing the attention of pharmaceutical companies: antlers.

There have been mixed opinions about the benefit of antlers, or antler velvet, harvested from deer, moose, caribou or elk. While some people believe in their nutritional value ― calcium, magnesium, zinc,
amino acids and anti-inflammatory prostaglandins ― others say they can cause obesity if taken excessively or affect the brains of children.

Use of antlers has been criticized as unsanitary or inhumane. This has come about because some people in the countryside traditionally sawed off the antlers of live animals and drank a bowlful of blood, believing it was good for their health.

Ginseng, on the other hand, has not been subject to reports of major side effects or nutritional risks. While there are now over 200 brands of nutritional supplements using ginseng, pharmaceutical companies are turning to the controversial ingredient.

But the antlers the companies are eyeing are not South Korean but from New Zealand. While Korean farms raise the animals in enclosures due to a lack of pasture, those in New Zealand roam freely. The Western farms are also certified by national standards, making it easy to trace the antlers' origins, allowing buyers to be sure where the products come from. This is not the case for farms in China and Russia.

"If South Korean pharmaceutical companies purchase antlers from New Zealand and control their manufacturing and distribution process, consumers' trust in the ingredient will improve from the past," a pharmaceutical company official said.

Some popular South Korean nutritional supplements contain mixed ingredients of antlers and ginseng, like ones above in syrup type.

The companies will rely on "scientific evidence" in promoting the benefits of antlers.

"We will divide each antler into four sections from top to bottom and study constituents and therapeutic effects of each part," pharmaceutical company Yuhan Corporation said.

So far, there are no nutritional supplements containing 100 percent antler. But Yuhan is working with New Zealand's leading research institute, AgResearch, to develop a product using local ingredients. In November, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Deer Industry New Zealand to supply antlers.

IlYang Pharm introduced nutritional pills containing ginseng and antlers in July. Kwangdong's new syrup also contains New Zealand antlers and South Korean ginseng.

These products are popular among students who finished the national college entrance exam in November and office workers and seniors looking to boost their stamina as winter creeps in. They cost less than 100,000 won ($91) for a month's supply, relatively affordable compared with past antler supplements that cost up to 500,000 won.

Ko Dong-hwan

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