Vitamin E is an essential nutrient, that protects cells from oxidative stress, and which cannot be made by the body. Oxidative stress results from the overproduction of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells, and con-tributes to the development of chronic disease. The term vitamin E refers to a family of eight closely related compounds: four tocotrienols (alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocotrienol) and four tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocopherol). Figure 1 shows the molecular structures for tocotrienol and tocopherol, which are quite similar in that they both consist of a chromanol ring and a phytyl side chain. The only difference is tocotrienol possess-es an unsaturated side chain (indicated by the presence of double C=C bonds), where-as tocopherol has a saturated side chain (absence of double C=C bonds). Hence, tocotrienol is also known as the unsaturated form of vitamin E.
The unsaturated side chain of tocotrienol allows the molecule to be more flexible and penetrate inside of cells more efficiently (where it is utilized as an anti-oxidant) compared to the saturated tocopherol form of vitamin E (1). Tocotrienol has been found to provide unique health benefits including brain health (2–7), liver health (7–9), cardiovascular health (10–11), skin health (12–15), and hair regrowth in participants with hair loss. These unique health benefits have been reported in published human clinical studies. Due to these unique health benefits, tocotrienol has been dubbed ‘super vitamin E’ and ‘vitamin E for the 21st century’.
Brain health has been investigated by one of the largest tocotrienol/tocopherol human clinical trials ever conducted (121 participants) (2). This study showed that supplementation for two years with EVNol SupraBio™ (a natural full-spectrum vitamin E palm tocotrienol complex designed to enhance the absorption of tocotrienol by 250%) slowed the development of white matter lesions (WMLs) in the brain. WMLs are an indication of a fragile brain vascular network and are an independent risk factor for a full-blown stroke and cognitive dysfunction or impairment.
Dr. Nicholas Perricone (Dermatologist at the Yale Medical Center), in his New York Times’ best-selling book The Wrinkle Cure, advocated for the use of tocotrienols (as a form of ‘high performance vitamin E’) in cream to promote skin health and prevent skin aging. Vitamin E is used widely in cosmetic and personal care products. It is not surprising that tocotrienols, as the more potent form of vitamin E, is gaining the attention of researchers and formulators for anti-aging and skin care products. The main reason tocotrienols are used is that it possesses anti-oxidant properties, which protect the skin against the toxic effects of oxidative stress caused by free radicals and exposure to chemicals and ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Tocotrienol exhibits 40 to 60 times stronger antioxidative properties compared to tocopherol and thus, tocotrienol is one of the most important lipid-soluble chain breaking antioxidants in cell membranes (1). A study revealed that the skin naturally contains approximately 15% of the total tocotrienols in the body, but only 1% of tocopherols are distributed in the skin (12). This suggested that the distribution of tocotrienols may be tissue-specific and that tocotrienol is preferentially accumulated and distributed in the upper most layer of the skin (strata cornea) (13). Hence, tocotrienols are the skin’s first line of defense against free radicals formed in the skin. A human clinical trial conducted in Italy and published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology showed that topical application prior to sun exposure (UV rays) of an antioxidant formulation (containing both tocotrienols and tocopherols) conferred greater protection from UV-induced skin damage than retinol (vitamin A) or other vitamin E free preparations. Results showed that pre-treatment with this new full-spectrum vitamin E topical formulation significantly reduced the signs and symptoms of UV-induced skin damage (lesions, erythema, oedema, itching, and vesciculation) in 30 participants. The researchers also noted that sufficient levels of protection to a UV-exposure test were achieved with a single application of the cream. The cream was found to be safe and did not cause any harmful side effects (14).
Researchers from the United States, Japan, Europe and Malaysia have reported the unique health properties of tocotrienol. However, tocotrienol cannot be produced in the body. As such tocotrienol must be obtained through diet or supplementation. In nature, palm oil (Elaeis guineensis) is the most abundant source of tocotrienol, containing up to 800 mg/kg. However, in order to attain a daily intake of 30–50 mg of tocotrienol via diet alone, one has to consume about 80,000 mg (80 g) of palm oil or 1.5–4.0 kg of wheat germ, barley or oats. This is practically impossible. Therefore, supplementation with tocotrienol through dietary supplements or tocotrienol fortified function foods is recommended to achieve a plasma level that supports overall health and well-being. The commercial applications of tocotrienols are diverse and represent a sizeable fraction of all health problems when taken together. Hence, full-spectrum palm tocotrienol complex is well positioned to potentially emerge as the most potent form of natural vitamin E.
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2. Gopalan Y, et al. Clinical investigation of the protective effects of palm vitamin E tocotrienols on brain white matter. Stroke. 2014;45(5):1422-8.
3. Mangialasche F, et al. High plasma levels of vitamin E forms and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in advanced age. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.
4. Mangialasche F, et al. Tocopherols and tocotrienols plasma levels are associated with cognitive impairment. Neurobiology of Aging. 2012;33:2282-2290.
5. Mangialasche F, et al. Classification and prediction of clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease based on MRI and plasma measures of α-/α-tocotrienols and α-tocopherol. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2013(June);273(6):602-21.
6. Mangialasche F, et al. Serum levels of vitamin E forms and risk of cognitive impairment in a Finnish cohort of older adults. Exp. Gerontol. 2013(Dec);48(12):1428-1435.
7. Magosso E, et al. Tocotrienols for normalisation of hepatic echogenic response in nonalcoholic fatty liver: a randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutr. J. 2013(Dec);12(1):166.
8. Arguillas M, et al. Abstract: The effect of vitami E (mixed tocotrienol) on the liver stiffness measurement measured by transient elastography (fibroScan) among NAFLD patients. APAS Liver Week. Singapore.2013(June).
9. Patel V, et al. Oral Tocotrienols are transported to human tissues and delay the progression of the model for end-stage liver disease score in patients. The Journal of Nutrition. 2012;142(3):513-9.
10. Yuen KH, et al. Effect of Mixed-Tocotrienols in Hypercholesterolemic Subjects. Functional Foods in Health and Disease. 2011;3:106-117.
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