Tocopherols and tocotrienols are the two key members of the Vitamin E “family.” While both compounds are similar in terms of molecular makeup and function, there are key variations between the two that affect their movement and how the body reacts to them. Here’s a brief guide to the similarities and important differences between these two beneficial forms of Vitamin E.
There are four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and each features a long tail with no double bonds. This unique molecular structure actually inhibits the functional effects of this vitamin within the body. In other words, tocopherols have a reduced flexibility in terms of movement and don’t work as efficiently as their counterparts, tocotrienols. Once absorbed by the body, tocopherols donate electrons to free radicals, protecting cell lipids and preventing oxidative harm from occurring in cells.
Like tocopherols, tocotrienols neutralize free radicals throughout the body and work to prevent oxidative stress. There are four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and their molecular structure consists of an unsaturated side chain with double bonds that give these compounds enhanced flexibility for movement. They can move 40 to 60 times faster in cell membranes when compared to tocopherols.
Current research shows promising results when study participants use tocotrienols as complementary treatments for ailments including cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Scientists are finding that tocotrienols provide benefits more readily to fatty tissues like the liver and brain than do tocopherols.
Both tocopherols and tocotrienols act as antioxidants, but the shorter tail of tocotrienols enables faster and more efficient movement around the cells in your body. Since tocotrienols have chains of unsaturated polymers, they can penetrate saturated fat cells around the brain and liver, protecting against cell damage and even various tumors and cancers. While tocopherol has these antioxidant capacities, they occur at much lower levels.
You can increase your daily intake of tocopherol by eating more Vitamin E-rich foods, including leafy green vegetables, nuts and pressed oils, or by taking a supplement. Since tocotrienols are not readily available in dietary sources like tocopherol is, it may be helpful to take a tocotrienol supplement to increase your daily intake.
Remember that alpha-tocopherol inhibits absorption of tocotrienol, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to boost your tocotrienol intake only. Always talk to a physician before taking any supplement and choose an all-natural organic option to receive the maximum benefits.