Tocotrienol as the reason why vitamin E is so popular again

by ir. Yvana van den Hork

Vitamin E was first discovered in 1922 when it was deduced to be an important dietary factor, necessary for reproduction, hence why it was called “fertility factor.” Only in 1938 the structure of the most common form of vitamin E, alpha tocopherol was fully elucidated.

As tocotrienols were only discovered in 1964 , the vast majority of scientific research is done on tocopherols. Even today, less than 1% of the literature on vitamin E is devoted to tocotrienols.
It took even longer until the benefits of tocotrienols were discovered, starting in the 1980s, when it was discovered tocotrienols could lower cholesterol. It took till the 1990s when a plethora of other benefits were being discovered.

Vitamin E can be divided into two groups: tocopherols, which is the most well-known form of vitamin E, and the lesser-known tocotrienols. Chemically speaking, tocotrienols bear close resemblance to tocotrienols: they have the same 4 configuration (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and differ only by a few chemical bonds. But those small differences make all the difference in how it functions in the body, because apparently tocotrienols can get more involved in profound biological processes, such as modulating gene expressions and regulating vital enzyme functions. Tocotrienols provide valuable therapeutic and preventive options for the diseases of aging that tocopherols alone may not provide.

It is now apparent that studies showing little or no effect from vitamin E supplementation failed in part because they used only alpha-tocopherol, rather than also including other tocopherols and tocotrienols.
If your vitamin E supplement contains only tocopherol forms, you may not be getting all of the benefits this nutrient has to offer. While tocopherols are very important, they lack many of the synergistic benefits offered by their cousins, the tocotrienols.

Tocotrienols can be found in oils derived from grains such as rice, wheat, barley, rye, and oats. However, the highest concentration is found in red palm oil, which is derived from the palm nut that is commonly found in Africa and often used as a cooking oil. While tocotrienols are natural, the concentrations are so low, they do not have orthomolecular benefits when consumed directly.

Most of the research on tocotrienol was done in the 1990s by dr. Tan who extracted tocotrienol from rice, palm and anatto (a plant known as a colouring agent) .
Scientists have researched tocotrienols for their effect on such diseases as cancer, cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. Most of the research have concentrated on animal studies, which have yielded promising results. But studies on the effects of the agent on humans are limited and at times inconsistent.

Research scientists have discovered that tocotrienols can decrease the formations of tumors and prevent damage to the DNA and cells in several tumour types such as prostate, breast and skin cancer cells.

As for benefits for cholesterol, palm based tocotrienols have the potential to alleviate arteries clogged by cholesterol. Certain types of tocotrienols have been found to be more effective than others, while gamma-tocotrienols are more apt to decrease the development of cholesterol within liver cells.

Studies have also shown that tocotrienols can have the potential to reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases because tocotrienols promote new artery formation.
In one human medical research study, patients with carotid atherosclerosis who were given 240 mg of palm based tocotrienols a day for 18-36 months had seen a significant decrease in the amount of cholesterol plaque in their carotid artery.

Palm based tocotrienols can also provide protection against ischemia and reperfusion heart injuries by relieving oxidative stress on the heart. Delta-tocotrienols can slow down the aggression of platelets, while palm based tocotrienols can possibly be an antithrombotic agent.

The more popular use of tocotrienols occurs in the field of anti-aging and cosmetics applications for their antioxidant properties. Tocotrienols can be a potent protective agent against free radicals caused by ultraviolet (UV) and ozone rays.

They can also prevent skin aging and damage caused by oxidative rays. Often an active ingredient in sunscreens, tocotrienols penetrate through the skin at a faster rate than tocopherols and can decrease the UV rays’ penetration into the skin.

Not only do tocotrienols have the potential to aid in the treatment of certain kinds of tumours, cholesterol, and diabetes, but they are also effective in lowering blood pressure. In studies, researchers have found that gamma-tocotrienols can prevent the development of increased blood pressure in rats that were bred to have hypertension after just 3 months. Other heart-healthy effects are lowering of homocysteine levels.

Another exciting benefit are neuroprotective properties of tocotrienols. Basic laboratory and animal studies have long supported a role for tocotrienols in protecting brain cells where tocotrienols protect brain cells because they are able to redirect the production of inflammatory molecules to non- or even anti-inflammatory actions. But only in 2014, a human study confirmed results from laboratory studies. In a group with known cardiovascular risk factors and confirmed white matter lesions in their brains, a placebo or a dose of twice-daily dose of 200 mg mixed tocotrienols were given during two years.
In the placebo group, the mean volume of white matter lesions increased over the two-year study period. But in the tocotrienol group, the volume of lesions remained unchanged, and the differences between the groups was statistically significant. This was the first time tocotrienol supplementation has been confirmed to be neuroprotective in living human patients and also the first demonstration that a simple supplemental therapy can slow progression of the white matter lesions, which many neurologists suspect lies at the root of the tragic and progressive loss of cognition suffered by so many aging adults.

Ever since word has spread on the benefits of tocotrienols, people have started taking tocotrienols exclusively, but it is still recommended to continue taking both forms, a combination of both tocopherol and tocotrienol.

For therapeutic uses, 140-360 mg/day is frequently recommended, while daily use falls in the 40-50 mg/day range. Generally, there are no differences in dosage among children and adults, though children under the age of 10 are advised not to use tocotrienols at all, because they haven't been researched well enough and as a result there is not even an official Recommended Daily Intake being established for them.

One myth regarding tocotrienols is the idea that their benefits are noticeable even when consumed in natural foods. Some literature even tout the health benefits of consuming a teaspoon of palm oil a day. This is not the case. The amount of tocotrienols found in natural foods like palm oil, barley, wheat, or grain, is so low that there are no appreciable benefits in consuming these foods solely for their supplemental value.
In order to reap the benefits of the recommended dose, one will have to consume two cups of palm oil a day in order to have any benefits. It is only through extracting tocotrienols from these foods, particularly from palm oil, that they can have their full potential as a health supplement. The best possible supplements will be organically derived from palm oil. Processed-derived supplements can be useful too, but only if they contain phyto-nutrients which are also found in palm oil, which are phytoserols, squalene, and mixed cartotenoids. 

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