PALM TOCOTRIENOLS: A NEW SUPER ANTIOXIDANT
In recent years there has been a wealth of exciting research on a relatively little known class of nutrients called tocotrienols. Tocotrienols are a super potent form of vitamin E possessing up to 60 times the antioxidant power of ordinary vitamin E. Their effects are far beyond that of regular vitamin E. Research shows that tocotrienols lower cholesterol, keep blood thin and flowing freely, dissolve arterial plaque, and extend lives of stroke and heart disease patients. They also demonstrate powerful anticancer properties and protect the brain from degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
There are two major types of vitamin E—tocopherol and tocotrienol—each consisting of four subtypes. The subtypes are identified by the prefix alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The tocopherols (alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherols, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol) are the most common. Alpha-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E we are most familiar with and the type commonly used in vitamin supplements and foods. When people talk about vitamin E, they usually mean alpha-tocopherol. For many years alpha-tocopherol was believed to be the most biologically active form of vitamin E, and therefore the most important. Recent studies now show that the other form of vitamin E, the tocotrienols, can have a much greater influence on health and disease prevention and treatment.
Tocopherols, the ordinary form of vitamin E, are relatively common in our diet. Tocotrienols, on the other hand, are harder to get. They are found in small amounts in some nuts, seeds, and grains. By far the most abundant source of these super antioxidants is in palm oil. Palm oil is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin E in general, and the richest source of tocotrienols.
Because tocotrienols are powerful antioxidants, they can be useful in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Heart disease is characterized by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries. A number of studies have demonstrated the ability of antioxidants to prevent cholesterol oxidation and, thereby, arrest the development of atherosclerosis. Although ordinary vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, it has only shown modest benefit in this respect. Palm tocotrienols, however, have shown to very effective in stopping and reversing atherosclerosis and, therefore, protecting against heart attacks and strokes.
Studies show that the tocotrienols can actively remove plaque buildup in arteries and reverse the progression of atherosclerosis. This has been demonstrated in both animal and human studies. In one study, for instance, 50 subjects were divided into two equal groups. All the participants had been diagnosed with atherosclerosis and had suffered at least one stroke. At the beginning of the study the degree of blockage of their carotid arteries ranged from 15 to 79 percent. Without any other changes to their diets or medications, half of the subjects began taking a daily palm oil supplement containing tocotrienols. The other half received placebos and served as the control. The degree of atherosclerosis was monitored using ultrasound scans over an 18 month period. In the group receiving tocotrienols, atherosclerosis was halted in 23 of the 25 subjects. In seven of these subjects, atherosclerosis regressed. In comparison, none of those in the control group showed any improvement. In fact, the condition in 10 of them worsened (Tomeo, 1995). This study demonstrated that tocotrienols not only stop the progression of atherosclerosis but can reverse it as well.
Reversing atherosclerosis is not the only way tocotrienols protect against strokes and heart attacks. Tocotrienols also improve cholesterol values. In a study at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, researchers demonstrated a 10 percent decrease in total cholesterol in 36 hypercholesterolemic (high cholesterol) subjects given tocotrienol rich palm oil capsules for four weeks. A follow-up study of 16 subjects resulted in a 13 percent lowering of total cholesterol (Qureshi, 1995).
In another study 31 subjects took a tocotrienol supplement every day for 30 days. No other changes were made to their diets. They continued to eat whatever they desired. The results showed that the tocotrienols lowered both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol in all the volunteers. The magnitude of reduction of total cholesterol ranged from 5 to 35.9 percent and the reduction of LDL cholesterol ranged from 0.9 to 37 percent. What was even more important was the effect the palm oil had on the cholesterol ratio. The cholesterol ratio was reduced in 78 percent of the subjects, demonstrating a highly significant and favorable response to tocotrienol supplementation (Tan, 1991).
Another type of LDL cholesterol is lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a). It is similar in structure to LDL but contains an adhesive protein that enhances its ability to stick to artery walls. Lp(a) has been identified as a separate and distinct risk factor for heart disease. In fact, Lp(a) is associated with ten times the risk of elevated LDL. Cholesterol-lowering drugs have been ineffective in lowering Lp(a) levels. Several studies have shown that tocotrienols are effective in reducing Lp(a) and thus reduce risk of heart disease (Theriault, 1999; Wood, 1993).
Tocotrienols help maintain proper blood pressure. This powerful antioxidant inhibits platelets from sticking to one another, thereby “thinning” the blood. It also reduces inflammation and assists in keeping blood vessels properly dilated so that circulation remains normal and blood pressure stays under control.
In one study researchers induced inflammation in the arteries of test animals. Inflammation causes swelling, which narrows artery passageways, restricting blood flow to vital organs such as the heart. Half of the animals received tocotrienols in their diet while the other half served as the control. In the control group, artery passageways were severely constricted and 42 percent of the animals died. However, those that received the tocotrienols showed far less inflammation and constriction, resulting in a 100 percent survival rate.
Tocotrienols also strengthen the heart so that it can better withstand stress. Researchers can purposely induce heart attacks in lab animals by cutting off blood flow to the heart. This causes severe injury and death. However, if the animals are fed tocotrienol-rich palm oil, survival rate is greatly increased, injury is minimized, and recovery time is reduced (Esterhuyse, 2005).
While tocotrienols appear to be powerful aids in preventing heart disease, they have gained more notice in the fight against cancer. Antioxidants have long been known to offer protection against various forms of cancer. Tocotrienols, being highly potent antioxidants, have demonstrated remarkable anticancer properties far superior to most other antioxidants, including their more common vitamin E cousins.
Studies show tocotrienols inhibit the growth of skin, stomach, pancreas, liver, lung, colon, prostate, breast and other cancers. Most of the research to date has been done with breast cancer where tocotrienols show great promise. They not only prevent cancer from taking hold but actively block its growth and initiate apoptosis. Apoptosis is a process where diseased cells essentially commit suicide. This is a normal process that is programmed into all of our cells in order to remove old and diseased cells. However, in cancer cells this process is blocked and affected cells continue to multiply and grow without restraint. Ordinary vitamin E does not induce programmed cell death in cancer cells. Only tocotrienols have this effect.
Initial research has been so impressive that cancer researchers have called tocotrienols the most powerful natural anticancer substances known to science (Yano, 2005). That’s quite a bold statement, but it illustrates the potential tocotrienols have in cancer prevention and treatment.
One of the worst things that can happen to us as we age is to lose our mental capabilities. Fortunately for us, tocotrienols can come to our rescue.
Two of the most significant factors that affect brain function are oxidative stress and poor circulation. Oxidative stress generates free radicals that damage brain and nerve tissue. Poor circulation affects the brain by restricting oxygen and glucose, which are vital for proper brain function. Researchers have found correlations between oxidative stress and reduced blood flow to the brain to senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and even schizophrenia. All of these conditions involve brain cell death. Tocotrienols aid the brain by reducing oxidative stress and improving blood flow.
Researchers can mimic much of the destruction seen in the above neurological disorders by feeding test animals glutamate—an amino acid that kills brain cells. The primary action of cell death is caused by free radicals. Ordinary vitamin E is not strong enough to prevent glutamate-induced cell death. But tocotrienols can quench the destructive action of glutamate. In laboratory studies tocotrienol-treated neurons maintain healthy growth and motility even in the presences of excess glutamate (Khanna, 2003).
Research is showing that tocotrienols can be of help with a number of common health problems, including osteoporosis, asthma, cataract, macular degeneration, arthritis, and liver disease and stunt the processes that promote premature aging.
A number of dietary supplements have recently come on the market containing palm tocotrienols. This is a good way to incorporate these health-giving nutrients into your life. The best food source of tocotrienols is from its source—palm oil. One tablespoon supplies more than enough to meet daily requirements of vitamin E. The advantage of getting vitamin E from a food rather than a dietary supplement is that you get a full range of tocopherols and tocotrienols as well as many other naturally occurring nutrients that work synergistically together to improve health. The best way to take palm oil is to incorporate it into daily food preparation. Simply use it in place of other oils in recipes.
For more information about the health benefits of tocotrienols and palm oil I recommend my new book The Palm Oil Miracle. Virgin palm oil is a powerhouse of nutrition. In addition to vitamin E, it is the richest natural source of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.
It contains a least 20 carotenoids, as well as CoQ10, squalene, phytosterols, and other health promoting nutrients. Palm oil is currently being used as a dietary supplement throughout the world to fight nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition. It is literally saving the lives of millions of children. It is a food and a nutritional supplement combined as one. Palm oil is available at most good health food stores and online. The Palm Oil Miracle is available at all good health food stores and online from www.piccadillybooks.com and www.amazon.com.