Humans can’t synthesize Vitamin E and therefore, must obtain it from the diet. Vitamin E exists in 8 different forms: alpha (α), beta (β), gamma (γ) delta (δ)-tocopherol, and α, β, γ, and δ-tocotrienol. The importance of Vitamin E during aging is illustrated by the finding that high blood levels of both tocopherols and tocotrienols are associated with a reduced risk (50%-90%) of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in people older than 75 years (Mangialasche et. al 2010; Mangialasche et. al 2011).
However, is there a difference between tocopherols and tocotrienols, in terms of health? The answer is yes: tocotrienols have been shown to have better antioxidant properties (Serbinova et. al 1991), and, they have a greater ability to inhibit oxidative damage, relative to tocopherols (Kamat et. al 1997, Kamat, J. P. & Devasagayam 1995).
Tocotrienols have been used to reduce triglycerides (Zaiden et. al 2010), a well documented risk factor for cardiovascular disease (Austin et. al 1998). Tocotrienols have also been shown to reduce inflammation (Wu et. al 2008), to reduce DNA damage (Chin et. al 2008), to reduce the progression of both liver and lung cancer (Wada et. al 2005), and are neuroprotective (Khana et. al 2003, Nakagawa et. al 2007). Furthermore, tocotrienols have been shown to be effective against tumor angiogenesis (Shibata et. al 2008). Angiogenesis-the formation of new blood vessels-plays an important role in many pathological processes, such as the growth and metastasis of solid tumors, diabetic retinopathy, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis (Kim et. al 1993)
For those of you who are endurance athletes, tocotrienol supplementation has been shown to increase endurance capacity, in rats (Lee et al. 2009). It’s important to note that no human studies to date have investigated the role of tocotrienol supplementation on aerobic exercise capacity. In the Lee study, rats given a low dose of (25 mg/kg) of a tocotrienol rich supplement for one month doubled their swim time to exhaustion, whereas a high dose of tocotrienols (50 mg/kg) increased their swim time to exhaustion by 2.5-fold. In contrast, rats given a low dose (25 mg/kg) of α-tocopherol did not significantly increase swim endurance capacity.
So, where can we find dietary tocotrienols? Whole grains have the highest tocotrienol content, approximately 3 mg of tocotrienols/kg food, when compared with all other food groups (Sookwong et. al 2010). Tocotrienols are second most abundant in nuts and seeds, at 1.5 mg/kg. Tocotrienols are almost completely absent in all other food groups. The attached table in the right corner of this article lists tocotrienol content (in nanograms, ng) per calorie in commonly consumed whole grains, nuts/seeds, beans and oils. α-tocotrienol is particularly rich in oats and barley; durum wheat has ~5-fold more β –tocotrienol than any other grain, although barley and soybeans are also good sources; corn contains the highest amount of γ-tocotrienol, approximately 4-fold more than barley; and, safflower oil contains the highest concentration of δ-tocotrienol, containing approximately 3-fold more δ-tocotrienol than adzuki beans.
Considering that both wheat and barley contain gluten, celiac disease-susceptible individuals may want to avoid these grains. However, celiac disease affects 1 in 133 Americans (http://www.uchospitals.edu/pdf/uch_007937.pdf), so 99.2% of the population should be able to eat these tocotrienol-rich grains without issue. It’s important to note that if you have celiac disease, you can obtain full tocotrienol coverage by eating the combination of cashews and peanuts, albeit at a far lower concentration than found in whole grains, as shown in the attached Table.
On a final note, sesame seeds have been shown to elevate the concentration of tocotrienols found in skin (Ikeda et al. 2001), so if you want to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, consume tocotrienol-containing foods with sesame seeds. I do!
If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!
Austin MA, Holkanson JE, Edwards KL. Hypertriglyceridemia as a cardiovascular risk factor. Am J Cardiol 1998;81:7B-12B.
Chin SF, Hamid NA, Latiff AA, Zakaria Z, Mazlan M, Yusof YA, Karim AA, Ibahim J, Hamid Z, Ngah WZ. Reduction of DNA damage in older healthy adults by Tri E Tocotrienol supplementation. Nutrition. 2008 Jan;24(1):1-10.
Ikeda S, Toyoshima K, Yamashita K. Dietary sesame seeds elevate alpha- and gamma-tocotrienol concentrations in skin and adipose tissue of rats fed the tocotrienol-rich fraction extracted from palm oil. J Nutr. 2001 Nov;131(11):2892-7.
Kamat, J. P., Sarma, H. D., Devasagayam, T.P.A., Nesaretnam, K. & Basiron, Y. (1997) Tocotrienols from palm oil as effective inhibitors of protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation in rat liver microsomes. Mol. Cell. Biochem. 170: 131-138.
Kamat, J. P. & Devasagayam, T.P.A. (1995) Tocotrienols from palm oil as potent inhibitors of lipid peroxidation and protein oxidation in rat brain mitochondria. Neurosci. Lett. 195: 179-182.
Khanna S, Roy S, Ryu H, Bahadduri P, Swaan PW, Ratan RR, Sen CK. Molecular basis of vitamin E action: tocotrienol modulates 12-lipoxygenase, a key mediator of glutamate-induced neurodegeneration J Biol Chem. 2003 Oct 31;278(44):43508-15.
Kim KJ, Li B, Winer J, Armanini M, Gillett N, Phillips HS, Ferrara N. Inhibition of vascular endothelial growth factor induced angiogenesis. Nature 1993;362:841-4.
Lee SP, Mar GY, Ng LT. Effects of tocotrienol-rich fraction on exercise endurance capacity and oxidative stress in forced swimming rats. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Nov;107(5):587-95.
Mangialasche F, Kivipelto M, Mecocci P, Rizzuto D, Palmer K, Winblad B, Fratiglioni L. High plasma levels of vitamin E forms and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in advanced age. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.
Mangialasche F, Xu W, Kivipelto M, Costanzi E, Ercolani S, Pigliautile M, Cecchetti R, Baglioni M, Simmons A, Soininen H, Tsolaki M, Kloszewska I, Vellas B, Lovestone S, Mecocci P; AddNeuroMed Consortium. Tocopherols and tocotrienols plasma levels are associated with cognitive impairment. Neurobiol Aging. 2011 Dec 20.
Nakagawa K, Shibata A, Yamashita S, Tsuzuki T, Kariya J, Oikawa S, Miyazawa T. In vivo angiogenesis is suppressed by unsaturated vitamin E, tocotrienol. J Nutr. 2007 Aug;137(8):1938-43.
Serbinova E, Kagan V, Han D, Packer L. Free radical recycling and intramembrane mobility in the antioxidant properties of a-tocopherol and a-tocotrienol. Free Radic Biol Med. 1991;10:263-75.
Shibata A, Nakagawa K, Sookwong P, Tsuzuki T, Oikawa S, Miyazawa T. Tumor anti-angiogenic effect and mechanism of action of delta-tocotrienol. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Aug 1;76(3):330-9.
Sookwong P, Nakagawa K, Yamaguchi Y, Miyazawa T, Kato S, Kimura F, Miyazawa T. Tocotrienol distribution in foods: estimation of daily tocotrienol intake of Japanese population. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Mar 24;58(6):3350-5.
Wada S, Satomi Y, Murakoshi M, Noguchi N, Yoshikawa T, Nishino H. Tumor suppressive effects of tocotrienol in vivo and in vitro. Cancer Lett. 2005;229:181-91.
Wu SJ, Liu PL, Ng LT. Tocotrienol-rich fraction of palm oil exhibits anti-inflammatory property by suppressing the expression of inflammatory mediators in human monocytic cells. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Aug;52(8):921-9.
Zaiden N, Yap WN, Ong S, Xu CH, Teo VH, Chang CP, Zhang XW, Nesaretnam K, Shiba S, Yap YL. Gamma delta tocotrienols reduce hepatic triglyceride synthesis and VLDL secretion. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2010 Oct 27;17(10):1019-32.
Annatto, aka Achiote is high in Tocotrienols: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annatto
I keep some in a spice grinder with pink pepper and find it delicious on most anything. -It’s a tough seed to grind and needs a strong mechanism… mortar & pestle won’t do it.
Could you please provide the pubmed reference (not Wiki) for the tocotrienols in annato? Also, the texture of annato makes me feel like I wouldn’t like to eat it!
How come the values in the chart state “values are ng tocotrienols/calorie” which has to be converted to mg and then relate that quantities in grams of either portion size of food or per 100 grams weight before slotting the information alongside other foods to become useful. Can do but just a lot more work across a huge amount of foods.
As for the measures for rice, barley, oats and others not eaten or typically not eaten raw, it would be better given as values after cooking, since the values will be dramatically less than given due to the whole E ‘family’ being very susceptible to heat (and light) so values of those foods would be better given as cooked to be useful.
It is January 2017 now. If this is still a live site here, is there any new updates on food values for the tocotrienol isomers? The data are generally missing from my own research because of lack of reliable or extensive research in depth as yet, despite the identification of all eight isomers several decades ago. Indeed I’m looking for all very latest info on tocotrienols, vitamin D2 and K2. Anyone?
Hey Christopher Wiseman, yes, my site is still live. I haven’t updated the tocotrienol data because there are much bigger fish to fry now, like microbial burden!
My understanding is that tocotrienols, at least alpha-, gamma- and delta-tocotrienols, are also found in red palm oil.