Tocotrienols are members of the family of vitamin E, an essential nutrient that is beneficial to the heart and nervous system. The vitamin E group includes 4 tocotrienols and 4 tocopherols, each with its designation of Alpha, Beta, Gamma or Delta. Tocopherols are much more common and more studied than their counterparts, but this does not lessen the importance of the 4 tocotrienols. Studies have shown that ingesting the right tocotrienols may greatly reduce the risk of certain health concerns such as strokes, high cholesterol, diabetes, and pancreatic, breast, skin and prostate cancer.
Discovery and Study of Tocotrienols
Tocotrienols were discovered in 1964 by Pennock and Whittle, a pair of scientists who learned to separate the compound from rubber. However, its health benefits did not begin to come to light until nearly 2 decades later, in the early 1980s, when its cholesterol-lowering properties were first noticed. Another decade went by until, in the 1990s, tocotrienols were found to be an effective weapon in the fight against various sorts of cancer. Since then, many studies have been done to get a better idea of its health benefits and to look for potential negative side effects, of which none have yet been discovered.
Extraction and Availability of Tocotrienols
When tocotrienols gained attention for their health benefits, Dr. Barrie Tan, Ph.D. decided to invent extraction techniques for improved efficiency. Tocotrienols exist at very low levels in nature, so it was important to find a way to easily gather large amounts for commercial purposes. In 1992, Carotech (a company founded by Dr. Tan) patented a method to extract tocotrienols from palm, annatto and rice. Cocoa butter, barley, coconut oil, wheat germ, rice bran oil and saw palmetto are other sources of tocotrienols.
Thanks to the extraction techniques developed by Dr. Tan, normal vitamin E supplements contain quite a large amount of tocotrienols - at minimum, 50 milligrams in a day's dosage. According to studies, this level of tocotrienol consumption alone may reduce cholesterol by up to 35%.
Studies of Tocotrienols vs Tocopherols
Tocopherols are much more common in nature than tocotrienols and have been perhaps more thoroughly studied. Tocopherols are a chemical alcohol and antioxidant. However, studies have been rather inconclusive with regards to quantitative benefits resulting from the ingestion of tocopherol alone. The tocopherol in vitamin E does make for an effective preservative, but aside from that, no significant and verifiable benefits of tocopherol consumption have been reported.
Tocotrienols are very different from tocopherols and the two should not be confused when it comes to health benefits. The chemical structure of tocotrienols allows them to penetrate through fatty tissue and therefore is more effective than tocopherols as an antioxidant. Cancer prevention, cholesterol reduction and protection against brain cell damage are all unique traits to tocotrienols. Furthermore, no negative side effects have yet been discovered, even at high levels of ingestion over extended periods of time.
Although only discovered fairly recently, tocotrienols have quickly garnered attention as safe and effective antioxidants, among other things. Thanks to modern research and extraction methods, tocotrienols have become more common and readily available.