The More the Merrier

For Vitamin E, four tocopherol members are better than one.

Vitamin E found in nature has always been superior to the Vitamin E found in the common supplement pills we consume. Why? Because most Vitamin E pills contain only alpha tocopherol whereas now we know that natural Vitamin E gives us not one (alpha-) but four (alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-) tocopherol members.

It is only recently that scientists have found the long-ignored members – gamma, beta and delta tocopherols – of the Vitamin E family to have important functions, some of which are different from that of alpha tocopherol. While alpha tocopherol alone does provide certain benefits, it has been found that the best benefits of Vitamin E supplementation come when it contains all four tocopherol members of the Vitamin E family.

A study published in the February 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the intake of a mixture of Vitamin E from food sources rather than from supplements is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

“High intake of Vitamin E from food (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, delta tocopherol), but not supplements (which usually contain only alpha tocopherol), is inversely associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” wrote Martha Clare Morris, ScD, PhD, from Rush Institute of healthy Aging in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues.

“Because Vitamin E is composed of four different tocopherol members (alpha-,beta-, gamma- and delta-) … and because Vitamin E supplements usually consists of alpha tocopherol only, one possible explanation for the seeming inconsistency is that the effect (benefit) is not due to alpha tocopherol alone but to a combination of tocopherol members.”

Free radicals can stimulate and intensify inflammation by turning on genes that promote inflammation. Many serious degenerative conditions, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), various types of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, appear to be promoted by chronic inflammation.

A recent report published on Dec 21, 2004 by the Proceedings of the National Acedemy of Sciences (led by a team of scientists including Qing Jiang, formerly of Children’s Hospital and Research Centre in Oakland, California). The research had nothing against alpha-tocopherol. “Alpha tocopherol has justifiably earned a good reputation as an antioxidant,” said Jiang in a news release. Instead, she wanted to see if other members of Vitamin E were promising.

Jiang, currently assistant professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University in Indiana, US, has studied gamma tocopherol before. In 2000, she and her colleagues found that it inhibits inflammation, which has been linked to cancer. [Journal – Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (Oct 2000) ]

This time, Jiang’s team studied gamma tocopherol against human prostate and lung cancer cells. They found that gamma tocopherol inhibited the spread of prostate and lung cancer cells without hurting the healthy cells. That indicates that gamma tocopherol might be able to combat cancer without damaging unaffected cells. The results were even better when gamma tocopherol got a little help from its other team members.

Mixing other members of Vitamin E – including gamma tocopherol – was even better at blocking cancer’s spread. “Combinations of different members of Vitamin E may be superior to each alone,” writes the researchers.

The summary of the recent findings is that taking alpha tocopherol alone may not provide the full benefits of Vitamin E.