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Broad Spectrum Vitamin E May Prevent Heart Disease

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and so it seems with vitamin E. Vitamin E is made up of four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta).  A new study found that taking a naturally extracted vitamin E, complete with a full range of tocopherols and especially high in tocotrienols, may increase heart-healthy HDL-cholesterol levels and decrease oxidation reactions in older adult women.

Most supplements sold as vitamin E are pure alpha-tocopherol, and indeed alpha-tocopherol was once believed to be the only active form of vitamin E. Many scientists now agree that the other tocopherols and tocotrienols also have important biological activities.

Antioxidants that might reduce cardiac risk

The study, published in Nutrition and Metabolism, included 31 healthy women 35 to 49 years old and 31 healthy women over 50. Women in each age category were randomly assigned to receive either 160 mg (240 IU) of a tocotrienol-rich formulation of vitamin E per day for six months or placebo. The vitamin E, which was extracted from palm oil, was 76% tocotrienols and 24% tocopherols. Blood tests were done at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the study. The findings were as follows:

  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and HDL- to total-cholesterol ratios increased in women taking the high-tocotrienol vitamin E, but not in women taking the placebo.
  • The improvements in HDL- to total-cholesterol ratios in the women using vitamin E were estimated to represent a 22.5% reduction in cardiovascular risk.
  • Blood levels of vitamin E and tocopherols rose in everyone receiving vitamin E, but tocotrienol levels only rose in the older age group.
  • Laboratory tests showed that the amount of oxidative stress decreased. Oxidative stress appears to increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Nature knows best 

Although we can’t say for sure whether supplementing with a high-tocotrienol vitamin E can prevent heart disease, these findings suggest it might help. The study’s authors noted that the possible health benefits of tocotrienols are likely to be linked to their ability to reduce oxidation reactions—the damaging reactions believed to be the basis of aging—in the body.

Based on their results, the study’s authors proposed that the best way to stay healthy is to get an array of antioxidants, including all of the vitamin E compounds. “The tocotrienols are found in a wide variety of foods and it has been suggested recently that all eight isomers [chemical variations] of vitamin E may be necessary for optimum health,” they said.

To get your tocotrienols

The amounts of tocotrienols used in this study are higher than you could reasonably get from food every day, but keep the following in mind if you would like to boost the amount in your diet:

  • Palm oil is by far the richest source of tocotrienols.
  • Coconut oil, rice bran oil, and wheat germ oil are all good sources of tocotrienols.
  • Whole cereal grains including barley, rye, and oats can provide small amounts of tocotrienols.

(Nutr Metab 2011;8:42)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor toHealthnotes Newswire.

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