Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and so it seems with vitamin E. Vitamin E is made up of four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta). A new study found that taking a naturally extracted vitamin E, complete with a full range of tocopherols and especially high in tocotrienols, may increase heart-healthy HDL-cholesterol levels and decrease oxidation reactions in older adult women.
Most supplements sold as vitamin E are pure alpha-tocopherol, and indeed alpha-tocopherol was once believed to be the only active form of vitamin E. Many scientists now agree that the other tocopherols and tocotrienols also have important biological activities.
The study, published in Nutrition and Metabolism, included 31 healthy women 35 to 49 years old and 31 healthy women over 50. Women in each age category were randomly assigned to receive either 160 mg (240 IU) of a tocotrienol-rich formulation of vitamin E per day for six months or placebo. The vitamin E, which was extracted from palm oil, was 76% tocotrienols and 24% tocopherols. Blood tests were done at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the study. The findings were as follows:
Although we can’t say for sure whether supplementing with a high-tocotrienol vitamin E can prevent heart disease, these findings suggest it might help. The study’s authors noted that the possible health benefits of tocotrienols are likely to be linked to their ability to reduce oxidation reactions—the damaging reactions believed to be the basis of aging—in the body.
Based on their results, the study’s authors proposed that the best way to stay healthy is to get an array of antioxidants, including all of the vitamin E compounds. “The tocotrienols are found in a wide variety of foods and it has been suggested recently that all eight isomers [chemical variations] of vitamin E may be necessary for optimum health,” they said.
The amounts of tocotrienols used in this study are higher than you could reasonably get from food every day, but keep the following in mind if you would like to boost the amount in your diet:
(Nutr Metab 2011;8:42)