The 8 forms of Vitamin E: Are Tocotrienols Superior to Tocopherols?

As the value of antioxidants gained headlines in the 1980's, vitamin E was the star for a long time. particularly for cancer prevention and cardiovascular disease.

Then, as predictably happens, low-potency and synthetic forms of vitamin E were administered and studied in isolation, or with a fragmented few other antioxidants. Unsurprisingly, since nutrients don't function in isolation, but in balance as a whole, the "dark" side of vitamin E started to emerge, i.e. that it may not prevent cancer, and may even cause it. (There is some evidence for the former, but virtually no evidence for the latter, except for the synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol form.) [1] 

But, as usual, we weren't told the whole story!

Yes, vitamin E is antioxidant, and most studies show that tocopherols are cancer preventive. [2] But what we rarely hear about is that there are 8 different naturally occurring forms: 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols (alpha, beta, delta, and gamma for both sets).

Virtually all we ever hear about is one of those forms: d-alpha tocopherol. Why?

Because this was the form that initially got studied, and is the most antioxidant among the tocopherols.

Yet, more recently, the far superior antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of tocotrienols have come to light...especially the delta and gamma forms from the seeds of the annatto tree.

Delta and gamma tocotrienols can provide major benefits...

...particularly in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, bone health, fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, and prostate that tocopherols cannot.

This is according to Barrie Tan, PhD. in his book, The Truth About Vitamin E. It contains 85 references and is a pretty quick read for anyone who is interested. The book is available at our stores.

For the above reasons, and knowing about tocotrienols, I have used New Roots  Vitamin E8 400 IU for over a decade.

Yet according to Dr. Tan, who has done much of the research on tocotrienols, tocopherols block the absorption of tocotrienols.

Hence you should take tocotrienols on their own.

Yet, what really caught my interest is the intensely red pigment that is contained in the annatto seed oil with the tocotrienols. This is mostly 2 carotenoids called bixen and norbixen, which have their own potent antioxidant activities. [3]

This situation is analogous to the potent carotenoid astaxanthin that occurs in krill oil along with phospholipids and the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. All provide extensive synergistic benefits. 

Largely because of the synergy of these bright carotenoid pigments, my assessment is that the Vitamin E tocotrienols from Annatto will live up to the claims of providing superior benefits to tocopherols in many areas. 

We will see. More information on this unique form of vitamin E to come shortly.

Until then, be well,




Dr Barrie Tan, PhD. 2019. The Truth About Vitamin E -The Secret to Thriving with Annatto Tocotrienols 


[1] Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). Klein EA, Thompson IM Jr, Tangen CM, et al. JAMA. 2011 Oct 12;306(14):1549-56

[2]  Tocopherols in cancer: an update .Soumyasri Das Gupta and Nanjoo Suh Mol Nutr Food Res. 2016 Jun; 60(6): 1354–1363. 

 [3] Antioxidant properties of annatto carotenoids. Food Chemistry, Volume 83, Issue 4, December 2003; pages 523 -529.


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