Many people may not know how vitamin E works but here is what we do know:
- Oxidative stress can cause cell and DNA damage leading to a plethora of chronic diseases
- Vitamin E has antioxidant effects and supplementation has been shown to have unique health benefits
Recent research has focused on specific compounds called tocotrienols that make up part of the larger vitamin E family, as having the most potent health benefits. Let’s take a closer look…
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress occurs when there is a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS; free radicals) and antioxidant defenses. ROS can be involved in cellular signaling and homeostasis. But during times of environmental stress, the body produces high levels of ROS. At high levels ROS can be toxic and result in cellular and DNA damage, leading to the development of diseases. Oxidative damage is thought to contribute to the normal aging process, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (ROS damages DNA, leading to cellular mutations).
What is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that protects cells from oxidative stress, and cannot be made in the body. Vitamin E refers to a family of eight compounds: four tocotrienols and four tocopherols. Most vitamin E products on the market are composed predominantly of alpha-tocopherols. It was previously thought that all vitamin E compounds were converted into alpha-tocopherol and therefore it would be better to add alpha-tocopherol directly to supplements and creams. However, numerous clinical studies have shown poor results when patients were administered alpha-tocopherol alone.
Newer evidence shows that tocotrienols are structurally more flexible than tocopherols, which allows tocotrienols to be more readily absorbed by cells. Studies have shown that tocotrienols are 40-60 times more bioactive than tocopherols. Furthermore, studies have shown that the body absorbs tocotrienols into cells more quickly than it does alpha-tocopherol, which is why they are detected in the bloodstream at lower levels. It is bizarre that alpha-tocopherol would be selected as the major vitamin E component to be added to supplements. Yet, many nutraceutical companies do need keep up with the latest research and alpha-tocopherol continues to be sold on the market. In that regard, AOR was the first North American company to include all eight vitamin E isomers (four tocopherols and four tocotrienols) back in early 2000 with the Total E product.
Why are Tocotrienols Excellent Antioxidants?
Tocotrienols have higher antioxidant properties due to the following:
- Tocotrienols are better able to penetrate cell membrane bilayers
- Tocotrienols have a higher recycling efficiency in the body
- Tocotrienols are better at disrupting the membrane lipids, causing more efficient interaction with harmful lipid radicals
Health Benefits of Tocotrienol Supplementation?
Tocotrienols have been shown to have heart, brain, liver, skin and hair health benefits. Interestingly, it is only tocotrienols that have been shown to accumulate in various organs in the body. This has never been shown in tocopherols!
Oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which is considered bad cholesterol is thought to be a key factor in the development of heart disease. Tocotrienol supplementation was shown to reduce total cholesterol and LDLs levels in patients suffering from high cholesterol. Furthermore, in a double-blind clinical trial, 28% of patients with carotid stenosis (narrowing of the carotid artery due to atherosclerosis) showed improvements versus those patients that were given placebo. By reducing LDL levels, oxidation is prevented, reducing further damage to the heart.
Oxidative stress has also been implicated in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Tocotrienol supplementation has been compared to placebo in patients with white matter lesions (WMLs), which are manifestations of tissue damage. The mean WML volume of the placebo group increased after two years, whereas that of the tocotrienol supplemented group remained unchanged. The results show that tocotrienols may be important in slowing down the development of WMLs.
In a group of end-stage liver patients, those that received daily supplementation of tocotrienols showed improvements in liver functions, as compared to those that received alpha-tocopherols.
Studies have shown that tocotrienol is preferentially accumulated and distributed in the upper most layer of the skin, which is why tocotrienols are commonly used in skin care products. Tocotrienols possess antioxidant properties, which protect the skin against the toxic effects of oxidative stress caused by free radicals and exposure to chemical and UV rays. Human clinical trials have shown that topical application prior to sun exposure (UV rays) of an antioxidant formulation conferred greater protection from UV induced skin damage than other vitamin E preparations.
Finally, in a randomized, double-blind, study to evaluate the effects of tocotrienols on hair grown, subjects were randomised to receive either 50 mg of tocotrienol or placebo twice daily for a period of 8 months. Hair count in the area of hair thinning and weight of hair were conducted at each visit. All subjects in the tocotrienol group had a positive response, 64% of subjects showed re-growth of between 10-35%, while 27% of subjects had 50% or greater hair re-growth.
Most people are aware of the unique and extensive health benefits of vitamin E. What most people don’t know is that it is the tocotrienol components that are the most bioactive compounds in the vitamin E family.