Tocotrienol is a more potent form of vitamin E

Something funny is happening in the world of vitamin E research. Another character named tocotrienol (or T3 for short) is waiting just offstage. Many scientists argue that this close relative of alpha tocopherol is, in fact, much more potent. Yet only 1% of the vast scientific literature on vitamin E research is devoted to this related class of compounds, the tocotrienols.

In this article, we will introduce this powerful new character derived mainly from palm and rice bran oils. We'll also cover reasons why you may want to incorporate it into your supplementation regime to take advantage of the brain protection, anti-cancer, skin care, and cholesterol lowering properties.

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In many assays, T3s are actually more potent than tocopherols. For instance, alpha-T3 protects cultured neurons from various neurotoxic insults at concentrations much lower than tocopherol's active range (1). We are talking about nanomolar vs. micromolar concentrations here.

The reason? T3 actvity goes beyond that of a simple antioxidant. Research investigating the mechanisms by whch T3s exert anti-cancer properties uncovered a link to the NF-kappaB and TNF-alpha tumorigenesis pathways. Put more simply, the T3 tail turns on a host of cellular defense mechanisms that bolster the antioxidant function (2).

These effects, which alter the way the cell manages damage and inflammation, were probably responsible for the results of a mouse study in Japan (3). Researchers found that oral supplementation with tocotrienes, but not tocopherol, was effective at reducing the effects of sunburn. We can't reproduce the pictures here because of copyright issues, but the differences in reddness of the backs of these mice is utterly remarkable.

The best-established role of T3s in humans is in the area of cholesterol research. A series of placebo-controlled crossover studies showed that T3s lowered and LDL cholesterol (4). More extensive research resulted in a suggestion that T3 supplementation with an AHA step 1 diet could reduce the risk of heart disease (5). These compounds have not been tested to anywhere near the same extend that tocopherols have.

Further experimentation suggests that the delta and gamma forms of the T3s are the most potent members of this family for cholesterol reduction and cancer prevention, while the alpha form is the most potent neuroprotective (6,2). You can buy delta/gamma mixtures (derived from annato seed extract) or full spectrum T3s (derived from palm oil, trade name Tocomin Suprabio) online.

For my own supplementation, I alternate days between natural alpha tocopherol and tocomin suprabio. With the supplementation regimen, I get high levels of natural alpha tocopherol an exposure to the potent benefits of the whole T3 family.

Complete strucutres of the tocotrienol family of compounds

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1. Osakada, F., Hashino, A, Kume, T, et al. "Alpha-tocotrienol provides the most potent neuroprotection among vitamin E analogs on cultured striatal neurons." Neuropharmacology 47 (2004) 904-15.
2. Sen, CK, Khanna, S, Roy, S. "Tocotrienols: Vitamin E beyond tocopherols." Life Sciences 78 (2006) 2088-98.
3. Yamada, Y, Obayashi, M, Ishikawa, T, et al. "Dietary tocotrienol reduces UVB-induced skin damage and sesamin enhances tocotrienol effects in hairless mice." J Nutr Sci Vitmainol (Tokyo). 54 (2008) 117-23.
4. Qureshi, AA, Qureshi, N, Wright, JJK, et al. "Lowering serum cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic humans by tocotrienols (palmvitee)." Am J Clin Nutr. 53 (1991) 1021S-6S.
5. Qureshi, AA, Sami, SA, Salser, WA, Khan, FA. "Dose-dependnt suppresion of serum cholesterol by tocotriene-rich fraction (TRF25) of rice bran in hypercholesteremic humans." Atherosclerosis 161 (2002) 199-207.
6. Tan, DT, Khor, HT, Low, WH, et al. "Effect of palm-oil-vitamin E concentrate on the serum and lipoprotein lipids in humans." Am J Clin Nutr. 53 (1991) 1027S-1030S.