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When antlers fall off, they leave wounds that heal quickly, without forming a scar. Researchers have found that velvet antler contains substances that encourage healing, and could be of use to humans. Of particular interest are 3 hormones known to promote growth of skin tissue: insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1). In a recent study, an ointment made from velvet antler, containing these compounds, enhanced healing when applied to the skin of rats. IGF-1 was a hot topic in the media in the winter of 2013 when a football player, Ray Lewis, was accused of using a banned spray containing IGF-1.
As this supplement is derived from 'deer', the two most commonly used species of deer in mainland China include the Sika deer Cervus nippon Temminck and Red Deer Cervus elaphus Linnaeus; these species may be relevant. 'Farming' of deers for antlers includes raising deer and sawing off the antlers under analgesia, the annual yeild appears to be 120-150 tonnes and deer are not usually killed as antlers are capable of full regeneration.
The FDA considers deer antler spray (or deer antler velvet) to be a dietary supplement. This means it doesn’t need to be extensively studied and regulated like medications. For this reason, it can be hard to tell what the actual concentration of active ingredients or IGF-1 is in various supplements. Plus products can differ quite a bit from one brand to another in terms of their purity and effectiveness.
A systemic review on human interventions makes note of a study conducted on patients of osteoarthritis (Edelman et al. 2000; cannot be located online) which found improvements in joint pain symptoms relative to baseline in the Velvet Antler group and not placebo, although a lack of information on blinding and randomization precludes results that can be drawn from this study.