_by Scott Bestul


Whitetail nuts aren’t the only ones fascinated by deer antlers these days. Spanish researchers digging into the causes of osteoporosis feel deer antlers can provide a clue to the cause of the degenerative bone disease that afflicts millions, particularly older women. This recent news release summarizes the work of researchers at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM), who studied an outbreak of antler breakage among deer in 2005.

Traditionally, osteoporosis has been linked to a calcium deficiency in the sufferer, but when scientists studied weak-antlered deer they found the animals were lacking in manganese, a mineral considered essential to calcium absorption. Apparently the winter of ’05 was intensely cold, which caused plants to reduce their normal concentrations of manganese. The deficiency was passed right on to the deer that fed on the plants, and led to the outbreak of broken antlers.

Stuff like this fascinates me. I’ve read for years that deer antlers are among the fastest-growing tissue known in the animal kingdom. They’ve been studied for years by medical researchers seeking cures for everything from cancer to, well, osteoporosis. How cool would it be if a cure for this debilitating condition could be celebrated because a team of sharp-eyed scientists took the time to study deer?

Aldo Leopold wasn’t the first to point out that all things in Nature are inexorably linked, but he was among the most eloquent. “The last word in ignorance,” he wrote, “is the man who says of an animal or plant ‘What good is it?'”