In Asia, velvet antler is dried and sold as slices, or as a powder which may be boiled in water, usually with other herbs and ingredients, and consumed as a medicinal soup. In the traditional commercial trade of Korea and China, whole stick antler velvet is divided into three sections based upon their supposed properties. Although there is an absence of uniform standardization, these sections are known as the wax piece (uppers or tips), the blood piece (middles), and the bone piece (bottoms): the wax piece may be marketed as a growth tonic for children, the blood piece supposedly for joint and bone health, and the bone piece supposedly for calcium deficiency and geriatric needs. Early commercial activity in Russia between the 1930s and 1980s led to the production of an alcohol extract from deer antler velvet marketed under the Russian drug trade name Pantocrin (also pantocrine or pantokrin).
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There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of deer antler velvet from decades of research carried out in Russia, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This research has given credibility to deer antler velvet’s traditional usage and validated recommendations for its inclusion as an everyday health supplement. Almost 250 papers have been published since 1930 on the manufacture, composition and biochemical effect of deer antler velvet. Studies on deer antler velvet and the corresponding findings are described below.
Deer antler velvet has made its way into the spotlight recently thanks to claims that Super Bowl winner Ray Lewis used it in spray form to recover from his October triceps injury. Lewis denied the claim, but had many people wondering if deer antler velvet, a substance that is banned by the NFL and claims to increase strength and boost muscle recovery, really works. The natural supplement, made from the fuzz that covers male deer antlers, is a growth hormone known as IGF-1, which supposedly can repair cartilege damage and increase strength and muscle mass.
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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.