Tocotrienols Effects on Cholesterol

Cholesterol inhibitors, Vitamin E, what does it all mean?

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Tocotrienols are members of the vitamin E family.  Like vitamin E, tocotrienols are potent antioxidants against lipid peroxidation (the damaging of fats by oxidation).  Studies indicate a possible role for tocotrienols in protecting against cancer (particularly breast and skin cancer) (1) (2).  It has also been shown to inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol.  As you may have guessed by the title of this article, that is what I am going to discuss below.

Tocotrienols are found primarily in the oil fraction of rice bran, palm fruit, barley, and wheat germ.  Supplemental sources of tocotrienols are derived from rice bran oil and palm oil distillates.  Tocotrienol supplements are available in capsules and tablets.

In a study, supplementation with 200 mg of gamma-tocotrienol reduced total cholesterol levels significantly—by 13% in four weeks (3).  In a double-blind study, 200 mg of tocotrienols per day produced a significant 15% drop in total cholesterol and an 8% reduction in LDL levels.  There were no changes in these levels in the placebo group (4).

Some studies have demonstrated a significant reduction of both total and LDL cholesterol with tocotrienols administered to patients with high serum lipids.  In a double blind, crossover study on 25 patients with high cholesterol levels, the patients in the treatment group were given 4 capsules daily of 50 mg tocotrienols mixed with palm oil, while the control group received only corn oil.  At the end of the 8-week trial period, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol had decreased significantly (15% and 8%) in the 15 subjects given the palm tocotrienols. There was no change in the control group (5).

Total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol were reduced even more (17 % and 24 % respectively) when tocotrienols were added to a low fat, low cholesterol diet and alcohol-free regimen in another double-blind, longer-lasting trial (12 weeks) [20].  Other important cardiovascular risk factors were reduced by tocotrienols.  Apoli-poprotein B and lipoprotein (a), strong predictors of cardiovascular disease [21-23], as well as thromboxane B2 and platelet factor 4 were all significantly lowered in the tocotrienol-treated group (15%, 17%, 31% and 14% respectively).

Tocotrienols and statin drugs such as lovastatin both lower cholesterol by suppressing the activity of the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, although through different mechanisms.  The statins are thought to affect the enzyme through competitive inhibition, while the tocotrienols accelerate enzyme degradation and decrease the efficiency of mRNA translation of the enzyme [18].  This difference in mechanism is believed to be a reason for the absence of adverse side effects with tocotrienols, contrary to the common side effects of the statin drugs.  HMG-CoA reductase is the enzyme that permits the body to synthesize its own cholesterol from a precursor called mevalonate.

The tocotrienol story is another example of a natural product slow to gain recognition.  A Univeristy of California research team discovered that d-alpha tocotrienol is over six times more effective than d-alpha tocopherol at protecting cell membranes against free radical damage [13].  In the presence of vitamin C, which recycles vitamin E-like compounds, its antioxidant activity is 40 to 60 times higher than d-alpha tocopherol.  This study was published in 1991.  It’s safe to say few cardiac physicians know about tocotrienols, and we have yet to see 60 Minutes do a piece on "the powerful new form of vitamin E."  It would be a tremendous service to public health if they did, because the benefits of tocotrienols go far beyond their stellar antioxidant ability.  Tocotrienols also lower total cholesterol and LDL, by impressive percentages.


1. Kamal-Eldin A, Appelqvist LA.  The chemistry and antioxidant properties of tocopherols and tocotrienols. Lipids 1996; 31:671–701 [review].

2. Kamat JP, Devasagayam TPA.  Tocotrienols from palm oil as potent inhibitors of lipid peroxidation and protein oxidation in rat brain mitochondria.  Neurosci Lett 1995; 195:179–82.

3. Qureshi AA, Bradlow BA, Brace L, et al. Response of hypercholesterolemic subjects to administration of tocotrienols.  Lipids 1995; 30:  1171–7.

4. Qureshi AA, Qureshi N, Wright JJ, et al. Lowering of serum cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic humans by tocotrienols (palmvitee).  Am J Clin Nutr 1991; 53:  1021S–6S.

5. Am J Clin Nutr 1991 Apr; 53(4 Suppl):  1021S-1026S.  Lowering of serum cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic humans by tocotrienols (palmvitee).  Qureshi AA, Qureshi N, Wright JJ, Shen Z, Kramer G, Gapor A, Chong YH, DeWitt G, Ong A, Peterson DM, et al.  Advanced Medical Research, Madison, WI 53719.


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April 24, 2006

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