Tocopherols are another group of chemicals that make up the vitamin E family. Both tocotrienols and tocopherols come in four forms: alpha, beta, delta, and gamma.
The average American diet contains more tocopherols than tocotrienols, so researchers are increasingly interested in how supplementing with tocotrienols might improve health.
- Tocotrienols are a group of chemicals that are part of the vitamin E family.
- Most vitamin E supplements are higher in tocopherols than tocotrienols.
- Tocotrienols may help fight free radical damage to the gastrointestinal system.
What are tocotrienols?
Tocotrienols and tocopherols are part of the Vitamin E family.
Both tocotrienols and tocopherols may be referred to as vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which means that it helps to neutralize free radicals.
Free radicals are chemicals linked to a host of health issues, including skin ageing, cancer, and numerous diseases. Free radicals can also cause chronic inflammation.
The primary reason tocotrienols may be beneficial is because of their antioxidant properties. Cereal grains tend to be rich in tocotrienols.
Good sources include:
- rice bran
- crude palm oil
The four forms of tocotrienol are alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocotrienol. Each type behaves differently, offering a range of health benefits.
How are they different from vitamin E?
Tocotrienols are a less common form of vitamin E than tocopherols. This is because there are more tocopherols in people’s diets and some vitamin E supplements consist exclusively of tocopherols.
The chemistry of vitamin E
The distinction between tocotrienols and tocopherols is chemical.
Research has found that only tocopherol can correct vitamin E deficiency, which suggests that tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that the body needs to function efficiently. However, scientists suggest that people interested in getting the most benefits from their vitamin E supplement should choose a supplement containing both tocopherols and tocotrienols.
The benefits of vitamin E
Both traditional vitamin E in the form of tocopherol and the tocotrienol form of vitamin E offer similar benefits. They’re both antioxidants with the power to reduce inflammation, potentially promoting anti-cancer, anti-ageing, and other benefits.
Benefits of tocotrienols
Tocotrienols target specific free radicals and sources of inflammation, however. Research has found that attacking these targets could offer the following health benefits:
Protecting the brain
Tocotrienol and tocopherol may protect brain cells from free radicals.
Some brain health conditions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of brain decline, are linked to free radical damage.
Tocotrienols may be able to fight a specific inflammatory factor that is related to brain health problems.
A 2014 study reconfirmed that the antioxidant activity of tocotrienol and tocopherol provide protection from free radical injury to brain cells.
Some research also suggests that tocotrienols may help fight Parkinson’s disease or slow the course of the disease.
Improved heart health
Tocotrienols can reduce or reverse inflammation and free radical damage that undermines heart health. Tocotrienols can also reduce the power of other cardiovascular health risk factors, including the impact of high cholesterol on heart health.
Reduced risk of cancer
Tocotrienols may reduce the risk of cancer by fighting free radical damage. Some studies also suggest that this form of vitamin E can slow the growth of cancer cells. A 2013 study found that tocotrienols could promote the death of breast cancer cells in the lab.
Research has also found that tocotrienols play a role in fighting liver, colon, prostate, lung, stomach, skin, and pancreatic cancers. Some studies suggest that gamma and delta tocotrienols may be more effective at fighting cancer than alpha and beta tocotrienols.
Tocotrienols can help prevent and reduce osteoporosis-related bone loss in several ways. Nicotine use can cause osteoporosis, but research has found that tocotrienol lowers the risk. Studies of rats have found that tocotrienol may slow the course of free radical-related bone loss.
People who already have osteoporosis can also benefit from tocotrienol. Tocotrienol may support bone growth, helping the body replace bone that has been lost to osteoporosis.
Improved gastrointestinal health
This can reduce acidity and prevent the development of painful lesions. Tocotrienol was especially effective at fighting the effects of stress on the gastrointestinal system. In a study of rats that compared tocotrienol to tocopherol, tocotrienol alone stopped hormonal and acidity changes related to stress.
Hair and skin health
Some cosmetic and skin care product manufacturers include both tocopherol and tocotrienol in their vitamin E products. Because tocotrienol is an antioxidant, it may help reverse or slow skin damage due to free radicals.
This, in theory, could prevent wrinkles and help the skin look appear youthful. Some studies suggest that applying tocotrienol to the skin may help, but the improvements are modest and more research is needed.
Side effects of tocotrienols
Studies have not uncovered any consistent, serious side effects associated with the use of tocotrienols. As with many other supplements, the primary risk is getting too much. People should talk to a doctor about the right dosing of tocotrienols, and do not exceed the recommended daily intake listed on the supplement package.
People with a history of allergies, particularly food allergies, may want to start with a low-dose supplement and can increase the dose slowly if they do not experience any side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor supplements, so it is important to choose brands that are trustworthy for purity and quality.
Tocotrienol shows great promise for improving health. Because it causes few or no side effects, it is safe for most people to try. It is not, however, a substitute for standard medical care. People interested in using tocotrienol should use it alongside traditional medicine to get the greatest benefits.