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Some Vitamin E Supplements Help Reduce Cardiovascular Risk


All vitamin E supplements are not created equal, and a new study illustrates that, indicating that one type you don’t hear much about can help reduce an important cardiovascular risk factor. The form of vitamin E studied is tocotrienols, derived from palm oil and other plant sources.

Vitamin E tocotrienols get the spotlight

Vitamin E is not one but a family of compounds that fall into two main groups: tocopherols and tocotrienols, with each group having four members named alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Alpha-tocopherol is the form most often found in supplements, while gamma-tocopherol is the one typically found in the American diet.

The general public is less familiar with tocotrienols, which are found most abundantly in palm oil, rice bran, and barley. For more than 20 years, however, scientists have studied the health effects of tocotrienols, including an animal study in 1986 that showed tocotrienols reduced the rate of cholesterol synthesis, which in turn reduced total and “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in chickens.

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Since then there have been scores of studies exploring the benefits of tocotrienols in both animals and humans, including one published in Atherosclerosis, in which researchers found that 100 mg of tocotrienols from rice bran lowered total cholesterol by 20 percent, LDL by 25 percent, and triglycerides by 12 percent in people with high cholesterol.

In this new six-month study, 62 volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or 160 mg daily of a vitamin E supplement (Tri E Tocotrienol, by Sime Darby Bioganic Sdn Bhd) that was 74 percent tocotrienols and 26 percent tocopherol. Alpha-tocotrienol was the main tocotrienol in the supplement.

The researchers found that participants older than 50 experienced an increase in vitamin E levels by the end of the study. However, younger participants (those ages 35-49), as well as the older ones, saw improvement in the ratio of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) to total cholesterol when compared with placebo. This ratio is a specific risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The study’s authors suggested that “HDL cholesterol increases of the magnitude observed in this study have been associated with a 22.5 percent reduce risk of cardiovascular events.” They also noted that “the protective effects of tocotrienol-rich fraction supplementation observed in this study might represent a restoration of redox balance, particularly in the over 50-year old group.”

Chin SF et al. Nutrition & Metabolism 2011; 8:42
Qureshi AA et al. Journal of Biological Chemistry 1986 Aug 15; 261(23): 10544-50
Qureshi AA et al. Atherosclerosis 2002 Mar; 161(1): 199-207