Friday Pearl

Tocotrienols: Too Long The Red-Headed Stepchild

Friday, April 13, 2018

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. —Goethe

Vitamin E was recognized as an essential vitamin in 1922. It’s a family of compounds consisting of two categories: tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Structurally, they share a similar chromanol head: tocopherols are attached with a saturated tail at the C2 position, tocotrienols have three double bonds in the side chain. Both have four homologs, namely alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.

Enter the human genome project science and tocotrienol research

Nomenclature of the tocotrienol homologs is dependent on the degree and position of methylation (the process of turning genes on and off) at the C5 and C7 position at the chromanol head. 

Although alpha tocopherol is well known for its antioxidant role and the ability to neutralize free radicals by donating hydrogen from its chromanol ring, both tocopherols and tocotrienols are scientifically proven to exhibit various health benefits way beyond antioxidant properties, particularly tocotrienols. A brilliant review of tocotrienol's therapeutic potential was published as far back as 1999 in Clinical Biochemistry.

Below, we present just a bit of tocotrienol science that addresses health and biochemical structure / function, which we are allowed to present. In adherence to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) rules, now FDA enforced, we are not discussing disease-specific tocotrienol studies, of which there are many.

Immune system modulation. This has become an emerging and exciting field of interest in recent years due to its multitargeted effect. One of them is related to tocotrienols’ participation in immune-mediated-protein nuclear factor kappa B (NFkB) signaling activity, linked to optimal DNA transcription, cytokine production, and the age-related diminishing ability of the immune system to react efficiently.

Neuroprotection and cognitive function. The ability of natural vitamin E to modulate signal transduction and gene expression has been observed in numerous studies with the eight natural vitamin E analogues on optimal neural function, including signal transduction with differing potency, possibly affecting cellular ability to appropriately interact with specific neural signaling proteins.

Skin protection. Ultraviolet radiation is a common cause for oxidative damage of the skin by increasing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Evidence demonstrates that tocotrienols stimulate tumor suppressor genes that slow down cell division, help prevent DNA damage, repair DNA mistakes, and tell damaged skin cells when to die (apoptosis).

Vitamin E reporting on supplement fact boxes

Since the late 1990s and early 2,000s appropriate government funding has not been available to the National Academies, Academy of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board (the people who are responsible for determining and publishing the official dietary reference intake (DRI) recommendations based on reasonably current science, also sometimes still referred to as recommended daily amount (RDA)). The FDA uses this information to enforce percent daily value recommendations on nutritional supplement labels.

Unfortunately, the fat-soluble vitamin recommendations are still too often determinations made between 1998 and 2002, for the most part, vitamin D being the exception, with the amount of vitamin E on dietary supplement fact box labels only representing the total amount of one part of the vitamin E compound, alpha tocopherol, the most studied type of vitamin E available during those years. 


The vitamin E tocotrienol amounts are listed below the black line on supplement labels and cannot be referred to as vitamin E. To further confuse the consumer, they are measured and reported in milligrams instead of fat-soluble international units (IUs) like those required by vitamins A, E, D, and K. 

An easy solution in our opinion would be to give vitamin E tocopherols and tocotrienols two separate lines above the black line on multiple vitamin supplement fact boxes, with the total amounts of each form identified. 

If you carefully read the preface in the National Academies last Institute of Medicine Dietary (DRI) Reference Intake condensed publication in 2006, you will see that the information presented was mostly based on the DRI and vitamin / mineral information published between 1998 and 2002. There has not been a new edition published since the 2006 version.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff


The absorption of all fat-soluble vitamins: A, E, D, (both tocopherols and tocotrienols), and K, as well as carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin, is dependent on the ability of the stomach and small intestines to produce adequate secretions of the lipases and bile from food, and especially from food-fat intake, so always take your multiple vitamins with food that includes some fat.

As of April 10, 2018, the total number of Library of Congress international tocotrienol biochemistry, biology, dietary sources, clinical studies, and clinical study reviews equals 1,461, certainly enough for the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine to start championing a change in the way vitamin E is presented on dietary supplement fact boxes. 

One has to seriously wonder, given the science that supports nutrient intake influence on staying healthy, and the enormous and ever growing cost of sick care, why the the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not strongly recommend or require five-year Food and Nutrition Board published RDI nutrient revisions if proven necessary, based on well published peer-reviewed nutrition science, since this the information the medical professional and the public should be able to depend on and easily access. 

March for Science this weekend.

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