Tocotrienols are chemicals in the vitamin E family. Vitamin E is a substance necessary for proper body and brain function.
As with the other vitamin E chemicals, tocopherols, there are four types of tocotrienols found in nature: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Tocotrienols occur in the oils of rice bran, palm fruit, barley, and wheat germ. Tocopherols, on the other hand, are found mostly in vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower and safflower oils, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables.
These substances are also available in supplement form as capsules or pills. Although tocotrienols are structurally similar to tocopherols, each has slightly different health properties.
Experts believe that tocotrienols have many health benefits — some that are more powerful than those found in more common tocopherols. These include increased brain health and functionality, anticancer activity, and cholesterol-lowering properties.
Common forms and uses
Tocotrienols aren’t commonly found in nature and when they are, they tend to occur at very low levels. However, palm, rice bran, and barley oils contain tocotrienols, as well as wheat germ and oats.
Palm oil is the most concentrated natural source of tocotrienols, but even so, you would have to consume an entire cup of palm oil each day to ingest the amount of tocotrienols that experts suggest may have beneficial effects on health. For more higher levels of the substance, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Tocotrienols can also be found in synthetic supplements commonly sold in health food stores and pharmacies. While many people take vitamin E supplements, most only contain alpha-tocopherol.
Tocotrienols — particularly when taken along with squalene, phytosterols, and carotenoids — are linked to good health in several scientific studies. Specifically, tocotrienols may be effective at reducing levels of bad cholesterol as well as the risks and effects of some cancers.
The FDA doesn’t monitor purity or dose of supplements. Research different companies for a quality brand.
Scientific studies suggest that there are several health benefits to taking tocotrienols. These include:
- Improving fracture healing. Research on postmenopausal rats with osteoporosis showed that tocotrienols helped strengthen and more quickly heal bone fractures than other vitamin-E based supplements.
- Neuro-protective effects. Research on humans suggests that tocotrienols quickly and easily reach the brain, where they may improve brain function and health.
- Anticancer effects, and increased overall health. Research suggests that tocotrienols have an overall positive effect on human health, and specifically carry with them anticancer properties.
- Reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and lowering cholesterol levels. Tocotrienols may help slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries and decrease cholesterol levels.
Scientific research on the toxicological and pharmacological effects of tocotrienols at a dose of up to 2,500 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight per day didn’t cause any adverse side effects in rodents. Most studies have used a dosage of 200 mg daily.
Scientific research suggests that tocotrienols are generally safe for healthy people to take and there is little risk of overdosing. However, tocotrienols do have anticoagulant properties. So people with certain blood disorders should avoid taking them.
If you decide to take a tocotrienol supplement, choose one made of palm oil because it will be the most potent. Also check that it’s minimally processed, as these products will contain the highest possible amounts of other chemicals that are beneficial to health when taken with tocotrienols: phytosterols, squalene, carotenoids. Other choices include: soy isoflavones, Gingko biloba, and beta sitosterol.
While several scientific studies can back up the benefits of taking tocotrienols, supplements containing these chemicals can be very expensive.
There may be side effects or long-term health issues of taking large amounts of any supplements. So if you consume a diet rich in enough vitamin E, tocotrienol supplementation may not be necessary.
But if you have certain medical conditions that may be alleviated by taking tocotrienols, it could be beneficial to talk with your doctor about the best way to incorporate them into your diet.