How are your joints, deer? How the animal kingdom helps to keep us healthy

From the humble snail to the fearsome shark, the animal world is an unlikely  -  but ever-increasing  -  source of medical solutions to our health problems. Here are just some of the creatures that scientists have discovered can help us...

White tailed deer

The calcium in the deer velvet (the growing part of a stag's antlers) could reduce inflammation in the joints and make human cartilage more elastic


Tissue taken from pigs can be used to replace faulty valves in the heart. Valves from pigs are of a similar size and anatomy to human valves, explains Dr Mike Knapton, associate director of the British Heart Foundation. They are also less thrombogenic, which means they are less likely to cause clots.

The condition aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve does not open fully. This narrowing then restricts blood flow into the heart. Such conditions are treated by replacing the damaged valve.

Insulin taken from pigs revolutionised the treatment of diabetes. The condition is caused by the body's failure to produce its own supply of the hormone, which regulates glucose levels. Pig insulin is closest in chemical structure to human insulin and is injected by diabetics into their blood stream.


A compound found in green-lipped mussels called eicosatetraenoic acid is now being used to treat joint pain. The joint-healing properties of the mussels were first noticed more than 100 years ago by Maoris in New Zealand. Research later found the compound has anti-inflammatory actions which can be more potent than painkillers. Available as a pill called Regenovex (£29.99, www.


A molecule from shark cartilage called chondroitin can help fight joint pain and arthritis, by helping to make cartilage elastic, as well as blocking enzymes which break it down. Chondroitin also helps the body produce new cartilage. Supplements may also prevent the progression of osteoarthritis.


Collagen  -  a protein that connects tissues in the skin and muscles  -  sourced from cows may ease joint pain by helping to lower substances in the blood known as rheumatoid factor and tumor necrosis factor. Bovine collagen gathers in joints, stimulating the cartilage cells to produce more collagen. Available in supplements such as Flexeze Fortify (£29.95, www.goldshield.


The growing part of a stag's antlers, known as deer velvet, may relieve joint pain. Researchers at the University of Alberta discovered that nutrients such as calcium in the velvet could reduce inflammation and make human cartilage more elastic. Available as a supplement. (£28, www.velvet


The healing powers of snail slime on skin and broken bones was discovered by snail farmers in Chile. The deposits contain substances such as allantoin, collagen and elastin which are used by the snails to repair their shells. Available in a gel form in products such as De Tuinen Snail Gel. (£20.45, holland


Silkworms produce the enzyme serrapeptase, which can digest inflammatory tissue or dead tissue in humans. A study by the German State Hospital in Ulm investigated the effect of serrapeptase on postoperative swelling and pain. Patients who received the treatment experienced a 50 per cent decrease in swelling in the three days after surgery. Now available in supplements such as Solaray Serrapeptase, (£14.99,