Looking Back: Tocotrienols in Review
April of 2013 FOCUS introduced the latest research on mixed tocotrienols from organic virgin red palm oil, and in November 2013 we further explored these novel molecules. We feel the quote from Bharat B. Agarwahl, PhD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, sums it up well: “Tocotrienols exhibit health benefits quite different from that of tocopherols, and in most cases, these activities are superior for human use. Promising oral agents like tocotrienols are bioavailable, work on multiple pathways, and are already recognised as safe.”
Tocotrienols can benefit brain function in middle aged and elderly individuals and help prevent neurodegeneration.
In the past two issues, we looked at new studies showing that tocotrienols benefit patients with fatty liver disease, cholesterol levels, arterial stiffness, and stroke. We reported on tocotrienols in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cellular aging, and transient ischemic attacks and early kidney disease.
Here is a brief recap of those remarkable findings:
• Stroke. According to twenty years of research by Chandan Sen, PhD, a world expert on tocotrienols at Ohio State University, alpha tocotrienol uniquely protects and repairs neurons. In his in vitro studies, Sen found that alpha tocotrienol was significantly more effective in preventing neurodegeneration in cells than any other molecule he studied. In animal studies of stroke, both rodents and canines, ten weeks of prophylactic mixed palm tocotrienols significantly reduced stroke volume. Loss of connectivity between different regions of the brain was also reduced. Circulation to the large, middle cerebral artery was improved. Human trials are underway, studying stroke survivors at risk for a second stroke.
Tocotrienols can reverse non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well as improve deadly, end stage liver disease.
• Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) Tocotrienols can reverse non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as improve deadly, end-stage liver disease. NAFLD afflicts 15-30% of Americans, and of those, twenty percent progress to the more severe nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and occasionally cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. Most biopsy-based studies report a prevalence of NASH of 3-5 percent. NAFLD is highly correlated with other metabolic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol and triglycerides. In a 2013 double-blind study, published in Nutrition Journal, 87 adults with ultrasound-proven NAFLD were given either 200 mg twice daily of tocotrienols (43 of the adults) or a placebo (44 of the adults) in a double-blind, randomized study that lasted for a year. 64 patients completed the entire study. Half (15 out of 30) of the patients in the tocotrienols group had completely normal liver exams after the year, compared to 8 out of the 34 patients in the placebo group. In addition, the presence of about 60 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol in the mixed palm tocotrienols preparation did not influence outcomes of the study, and did not raise blood levels of alpha tocopherol beyond normal. In these modest doses, alpha tocopherol was compatible with tocotrienols.
• Fatty Liver and Liver Fibrosis. In another 2013 study, conducted by Dr. Marilyn Arguillas, chair of Internal Medicine-Gastroenterology at Davao Doctors Hospital in Davao City, Philippines, mixed tocotrienols reversed ultrasound-proven fatty liver, and improved liver fibrosis. Says Arguillas, “Currently, there is still no gold standard for the treatment of NAFLD and NASH. In my practice, however, I now use tocotrienols routinely for my NAFLD and NASH patients.”
• End Stage Liver Disease. 50% of end-stage liver disease participants awaiting liver transplants who received oral mixed tocotrienols from palm had a reduction in their end stage liver disease (MELD) score. This allowed them more time to find a suitable liver transplant.
• Arterial “stiffness” is common in hypertension, and it can even appear in individuals with normal blood pressure, as an indicator of their potential for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Men taking supplements of oral tocotrienols showed improved arterial elasticity, and reduced arterial stiffness.
• Cholesterol. Researchers put 28 individuals with high cholesterol on a restricted diet for a month, and then gave them either 50 mg of mixed tocotrienols, 10 mg of the statin drug Mevacor, or a combination of the two. In the 50 mg tocotrienol group total cholesterol was lowered by 14% and LDL by 18%. In the Mevacor group total cholesterol was lowered by 13% and LDL by 15%. In the combination group total cholesterol was lowered by 20% and LDL by 25%. The researchers then tested diet and tocotrienols alone—at doses of 25 mg, 50 mg, 100 mg, and 200 mg a day. 90 people were studied, and the 100 mg a day dose worked most efficiently, lowering total cholesterol by a very impressive 20% and LDL by a clinically highly significant 25%-30%. In addition, according to Barrie Tan, PhD, a combination of delta and gamma tocotrienols is a potent intervention for high blood lipids.
• Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. The work of Patrizia Mecocci, MD, PhD, Professor in Gerontology and Geriatrics and Director of the Geriatric Clinic at the University of Perugia, has shown that tocotrienols can benefit brain function in middle aged and elderly individuals. Higher plasma levels of total tocopherols, total tocotrienols and total vitamin E were associated with a 50% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease over six years. Says Mecocci, “Overall, our data support the hypothesis of a causal role of deficiency of vitamin E forms in development and clinical expression of AD.”
• Inflammation. According to Barrie Tan, PhD, delta tocotrienol combined with other antioxidants such as quercetin and resveratrol, decreases inflammatory markers including c-reactive protein, nitric oxide, and uric acid.
• Slowing Cellular Aging. The research of Suzana Makpol, PhD, professor of biochemistry a, Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysia, has shown that gamma tocotrienol protects against cellular aging by restoring telomere length and telomerase activity, reducing damaged DNA, and reversing cell cycle arrest associated with senescence. Telomeres are molecules which protect cells by preventing the ends of the chromosmes from fraying and sticking to each other each time the cell divides. Over the life of a cell, telomeres get progressively shorter. In a 2010 study, Makpol and her colleagues found that gamma tocotrienol protected cells against telomere shortening in response to hydrogen peroxide. She also found that tocotrienols protect telomere length by preserving an enzyme called telomerase.
• Kidney Function. According to Nahda Farah, MD, a general practitioner in Bandu Bara Bangi, Malaysia, tocotrienols helped reverse kidney disease in a patient. She reported that a patient who came in with early stage renal disease (creatinine of 128 mmol/l and Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) less than 50 when normal is over 90), improved on tocotrienols. “After taking tocotrienols at only 50 mg once a day for a month he came for a repeat renal profile. His creatinine went down to 115 (almost normal) and his GFR improved significantly. It is now 61. He has been on tocotrienols for a year now, and his creatinine has remained stable.”
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