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.
In Russia, Korea and China, deer antler velvet is widely used by athletes to enhance performance. In the United States, more and more athletes are looking to deer antler velvet as a training aid, a promoter of recovery after physical activity and injury, and possibly an injury preventative. Deer velvet could improve athletic performance in many ways, for example by assisting strength and endurance, by supporting the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, by facilitating minor tissue damage, and by boosting the immune system.
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.
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Velvet antler is the whole cartilaginous antler in a precalcified growth stage of the Cervidae family including the species of deer, elk, moose and caribou. Velvet antler is covered in a hairy, velvet-like "skin" known as velvet and its tines are rounded, because the antler has not calcified or finished developing. Velvet antler preparations are sold in China as part of Traditional Chinese medicine, and in the United States and some other countries as a dietary supplement.
Deer antler velvet can act as a natural adaptogen, restoring homeostasis to an unbalanced body by helping where it is needed. Deer antler velvet has an effect on many systems of the body given its complex chemical composition. The active ingredients in deer antler velvet are mostly precursors that are required by the body to process substances that maintain its health and wellbeing.
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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).