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Vitamin E is a special antioxidant that protects fats in the body, like those found in cell membranes and around nerve cells. In nature, vitamin E is made up of two types of molecules: tocopherols and tocotrienols; most vitamin E supplements, however, are made of a single tocopherol. A preliminary study found that the tocotrienols accumulate in important body tissues like the skin, brain, and heart, and improve markers of liver health in people with liver disease, suggesting that they may provide unique antioxidant protection.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, included 16 healthy people and 28 people in the hospital for heart, liver, or brain surgeries, or for plastic surgery related to obesity. The healthy participants took 400 mg of tocotrienols per day for 12 weeks and provided blood and skin samples to measure vitamin E concentrations at the beginning and end of the study. The surgery patients took either 400 mg of tocopherols or 400 mg of tocotrienols per day for an average of 20 weeks. Vitamin E concentrations were measured in tissue samples taken from their surgery sites and were compared to those in similar control tissues collected from autopsies.
Researchers found that, after supplementation, tocotrienol levels:
“This work provides, to our knowledge, the first evidence demonstrating that orally supplemented tocotrienols are transported to vital organs of adult humans,” the study’s authors said. This suggests tocotrienols may play critical roles in these tissues, roles that have not been demonstrated in previous vitamin E research, in which only alpha-tocopherol was used and benefits have been marginal or absent. Eating vitamin E–rich foods has shown more consistent benefits than taking alpha-tocopherol supplements, and this study adds to the evidence that tocotrienols in natural vitamin E may be part of the reason.
Here are some ways to ensure that you get the most from your vitamin E:
(J Nutr 2013;142:513–9)