Tocopherol is one of the 2 members of the vitamin E family. The other member is known as tocotrienol. Vitamin E incorporates 8 different compounds. These include 4 tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and 4 tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta). Both of them require fat in the diet in order to be absorbed and distributed within the body. Although it may seem like the two members are similar, various differences exist between them as outlined below.
Tocopherol molecules have a long tail with no double bonds. This inhibits the functional effects of the vitamin within the body. Hence, it has a much lower anti-oxidative capacity than its counterpart. Tocotrienol molecules have a short tail with 3 double bonds. This unique structure enables the vitamin to perform various functions, especially anti-oxidative, with greater efficacy.
Tocotrienol occurs naturally in very low concentrations in certain foods. It is also referred to as natural vitamin E. Sources include wheat germ, saw palmetto, barley, oats, rye, rice and bran. Tocopherol is the vitamin E you mainly find in drugstores, either alone, or in multivitamin form. It is also known as synthetic vitamin E. Many of the foods that we consume are also fortified with this vitamin E. In its natural form, it is found in palm oil, rice bran, wheat germ, soya bean oil, safflower oil, peanut oil and cocoa butter. It is also widely utilized in the cosmetic industry as a popular ingredient in the manufacture of soaps, creams, make-up and hair care products.
Both members of the vitamin E family act as antioxidants. However, the natural vitamin E is a more powerful antioxidant due to its unique molecular structure. The shorter tail enables quicker and more efficient movement around cells. The chemical structure of tocotrienols incorporates a chain of polymers that consists of unsaturated materials. This gives it the ability to penetrate saturated fat cells around the brain and liver. It is a vital compound in the body's immune system. This provides protection against cell damage in the brain, tumors and various types of cancers. It also assists in the rehabilitation of damaged cells. Tocopherol has a much lower anti-oxidative capacity.
Tocotrienol has proven efficacy to lower blood cholesterol levels even in small doses. It is widely recognized as a natural aid to help support healthy cholesterol levels. It is also able to cleanse the arteries of accumulated cholesterol. Although tocopherol can prevent plaque formation in arteries, it is unable to remove the plaque. The molecular structure contributes to the differences in ability to lower cholesterol.
No deficiencies have been established for natural vitamin E. However, it has been found useful in the alleviation of tocopherol deficiencies. Inadequate amounts of the latter can affect the central nervous system and lead to neuromuscular disease. This is characterized by inability to coordinate voluntary movements, muscle weaknesses, impaired balance and injury to sensory nerves. Other deficiencies include premature aging, acne, poor fertility and repeat miscarriages.