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Tocotrienols: Heart, cholesterol and cardiovascular health

What are tocotrienols?

Tocotrienols are members of a subgroup of the vitamin E family, which includes tocopherols. Both tocotrienols and tocopherols are antioxidants, but only tocotrienols have been shown to reduce cholesterol, inhibit certain cancers and manage diabetes.

Tocotrienol’s antioxidant properties

The antioxidant efficiency of tocotrienols was evaluated as their ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation and reactive oxygen species production. Delta-tocotrienol was found to have the greatest antioxidant properties among the tocotrienol isomers.

How do tocotrienols work to lower cholesterol?

The positive effects of tocotrienols on cholesterol levels result from their ability to down-regulate a liver enzyme involved in cholesterol synthesis (HMG-CoA reductase). This down-regulation results in a suppression of the activity of the enzyme. Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs also work by affecting the same enzyme, but in a totally different way.

Statins don’t down-regulate the enzyme; rather they deplete substrates of the enzyme itself. These substrates are substances that enzymes act upon to produce several substances in the body, including cholesterol. However, besides producing cholesterol, these same substrates are also used by the body to produce beneficial things such as Coenzyme Q10. Because tocotrienols achieve enzyme inhibition through a different mechanism than cholesterol lowering statin drugs, they don’t reduce our body's Coenzyme Q10 levels like statin drugs sometimes can do.

Health benefits of tocotrienols

Heart health — Consumption of tocotrienols is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Lipid management — Clinical studies demonstrate that tocotrienols lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and effectively lower triglyceride levels. Elevation of either of these lipid levels is associated with heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Free radical damage control — Tocotrienols protect the body’s approximately 75 trillion cells from oxidative damage.

Anti-inflammation — Tocotrienols control inflammatory mechanisms including reduction of atherogenic lipoprotein (a) and inhibition of the sticky adhesion molecules present in early stages of atherosclerosis.

Eye health — Tocotrienols reduce angiogensis, and may slow down the process of retinopathy and macular degeneration. Angiogenesis is involved in the abnormal growth of blood vessels in eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness.

Brain health — Tocotrienols improve carotid vascular flow and help reduce stroke-induced damages.

Safety — The safe dose of various tocotrienols for human consumption is estimated to be up to 1,000 mg per day.

Tocotrienols studies

Regulation of cholesterol synthesis

In two open clinical studies, the fasting blood lipids of 60 people were measured before and after two months of annatto tocotrienol supplementation (75 mg per day). In both groups, total cholesterol levels dropped 13%, whereas LDL (bad) cholesterol dropped 9-15% and HDL (good) cholesterol increased by 4-7%. The LDL:HDL ratio was reduced by 12-21%. An additional benefit of delta-tocotrienol was that triglyceride levels dropped 20-30%.

Another study conducted by Bristol-Myers Squibb found that after a four-week supplementation period with gamma- and delta-tocotrienol (100 mg per day), total cholesterol was reduced by 15-22%, and LDL cholesterol was decreased by 10-20%.

Effect of tocotrienols on carotid arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

A four-year study on patients with carotid artery arteriosclerosis showed that tocotrienol supplementation caused regression of stenosis (narrowing of the arteries). In 88% of patients who took the supplement, carotid artery stenosis either regressed or stabilized. Of the control group receiving a placebo, 60% deteriorated, and only 8% improved. Interestingly, total cholesterol decreased 14% and LDL cholesterol fell 21% in the third and fourth year of the study.

Prevention of platelet aggregation

One of the first steps of atherogenesis is fatty streak formation in arteries, which begins with the adherence of circulating monocytes to the endothelium. In a human study, delta-tocotrienol was shown to be significantly more potent in the inhibition of platelet aggregation than the other tocotrienol isomers, giving an overall inhibition of 71%, as compared to 5-37% with other tocotrienols.

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