Vitamin E was discovered by Herbert Evans and Katherine Bishop from Berkeley in 1922 when they isolated a fat-soluble factor from greens that allowed rats that were previously infertile, to deliver healthy offspring. It became the fifth vitamin to be isolated and was thought of as an anti-sterility factor. Because of this association with fertility it was later called Tocopherol from the Greek words “toc” (offspring) and “phero” (to bring forth) and has enjoyed humorous cultural references regarding virility since then. The original vitamin E isolated was Alpha Tocopherol. Because this was the original form, alpha tocopherol is legally labeled vitamin E. The natural form of vitamin E, is D alpha tocopherol and 95% of the vitamin E sold in the U.S. is D alpha tocopherol in a capsule. Asynthetic form of vitamin E labeled dl alpha tocopherol is also legally called vitamin E, but it is a much more difficult form for our body to utilize. Even the FDA recognizes that the natural form of vitamin E has a biopotency effect twice that of the synthetic dl form.
The natural form of vitamin E, D alpha tocopherol has been widely used as an antioxidant and was generally regarded as a sensible supplement to protect the body from free radical stress, to be protective of the cardio vascular system, and to help prevent scars. However, studies have been inconsistent about the benefits of d alpha when studied singularly. Might the original factors derived in 1922 included other components that were not able to be isolated at that time? It appears so. In the last few decades’ other tocopherols were discovered, and in 1964, Pennock and Whittle discovered the other part of the vitamin E family previously unheard of, the tocotrienol family.
Tocopherols and The Other Vitamin E, Tocotrienols
We now know that taking only the alpha tocopherol form of vitamin E, will not fulfill the expectations of patients and clinicians for vitamin E supplementation. There are two families that make up the E complex. One is the tocopherol family which has four members and the tocotrienol family which also has four members. Each family has the alpha, beta, gamma and delta forms. Inclusively the two families are referred to as tocochromanols. Although research is now showing that each family has attributes that positively impacts different health issues, the delta and gamma groups of bothtocopherols and tocotrienols have the highest biological benefit. They inhibit the enzyme cyclooxygenase, (Cox-1, Cox-2 enzymes) and 5-lipoxygenase enzyme (Lox-5 enzymes). This is where inflammatory leukotrienes are produced that are associated with inflammation and chronic pain. Both families also inhibit lipid peroxidation (free radicals and oxidative stress to the layer of protective fat surrounding cells) which causes premature ageing. Supplementation of the mixed tocopherols gives people more DNA protection than supplementing with alpha tocopherol by itself. Because of their antioxidant properties the two families of E can help with cataracts, UV exposure, blood pressure, and clot formation.
We Are Famil'E'
Research into the tocotrienol family has some comparing the tocopherol family to a local policeman, and the tocotrienol family to a state trooper. Because the tocotrienols are smaller in size, they can travel through the body protecting areas including the brain and nervous system that tocopherols can’t access. Tocotrienols (delta and gamma) have been shown to help with Asthma. They help dementia by repairing mitochondria in the brain, and consequently other neurodegenerative conditions by blocking the excitatory glutamate pathways that cause neuroinflammation. There is evidence that delta tocotrienol can lower triglycerides and cholesterol by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme in cholesterol synthesis,something that tocopherols don’t appear to do. Tocotrienols lower ApoB the main component of LDL cholesterol. It is by this same mechanism that statins work. There is promising research that the tocotrienols can starve tumor cells of its blood supply. In 2005 there was a study that showed gamma tocotrienols were found to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation!
Food Sources of Tocotrienols and Tocopherols
The Annatto seeds from the Achiota tree contain 100% tocotrienols and no tocopherols. Annatto Tocotrienols have 5x the antioxidant activity than alpha tocopherol and supplementation from this source yields the greatest benefit. Other top sources of Tocotrienols are Palm oil, Rice Bran, and Oats along with other grains and seeds, whereas the best sources of tocopherols are derived from fats.
Far and wide vitamin E supplements fail to give you what you expect when you are purchasing it. Are you buying d alpha tocopherol or even worse the dl synthetic version? You will never see more than just d alpha tocopherol in any multiple in the marketplace meaning you are only getting 1/8 of the vitamin E complex. There is only one company in my research that has an E complex with a reasonable amount of all eight of the tocopherols and tocotrienols in it and that is made by Life Extension Another company, Designs for Health makes a tocotrienol product that is made from Annatto and it has the highest levels of the delta and gamma tocotrienols that I can see. I am now stocking both in my office and I believe they are the best products to deliver the benefits of vitamin E. Based on the research I have read, the entire E complex and more specifically the tocotrienol fractions are not getting the attention they deserve in the prevention and treatment of illness.