Most people think of vitamin E as being a single vitamin. The reality is there are eight different types of vitamin E – four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Up until now, most of the focus and research has centered around the tocopherols since alpha-tocopherol is the most abundant form of vitamin E in the body, but there’s increasing evidence that vitamin E tocotrienols may have powerful benefits that the tocopherols lack.
The New Form of Vitamin E: Tocotrienols?
The primary form of vitamin E in supplements is alpha-tocopherol, although more vitamin companies are starting to manufacture supplements containing both tocopherols and tocotrienols – and for good reason.
The beauty of vitamin E is its ability to protect cells against free radicals that cause mutations that lead to cancer and other diseases. It does this by inserting itself into the membrane of a cell – to protect it. Tocotrienols may be more effective at doing this than the tocopherols, because its structure allows it to move around more – so it can protect larger areas of the cell membrane.
Types of Vitamin E: Are the Tocotrienols Really Better?
Preliminary research suggests that vitamin E tocotrienols have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties as well as anti-cancer and brain health benefits that could surpass their tocopherol cousins. Other areas where they show promise are as immune system boosters and to increase hair growth in men with male-pattern baldness. Of course, more research is needed since this form of vitamin E has been neglected for so long from a research standpoint.
Natural Sources of Vitamin E Tocotrienols
You can get more tocotrienols in your diet by using palm, sesame, walnut, peanut, rice bran, or coconut oil. Palm oil is the best source of tocotrienols, but it’s also high in saturated fats. Tocotrienols are also found in some whole grain foods such as oats, wheat germ and barley. Since there aren’t a lot of foods that are naturally high in tocotrienols, getting their benefits may require a supplement.
Unfortunately, most vitamin E supplements at the drugstore are alpha-tocopherol or mixed tocopherols. It’s possible to buy a tocotrienol supplement online, but it may be best to wait until more research confirms these early findings. In the meantime, eat more whole grains and use oils that contain tocotrienols, but don’t go heavy on the palm oil since it contains saturated fats.
Nutraingredients.com. “The science of the ‘˜next generation’ vitamin E”
Life Sci. 2006 Mar 27;78(18):2088-98. Epub 2006 Feb 3.