Vitamin E more than just tocopherol

Vitamin E occurs in nature in 8 different forms.  There are the alpha, beta and gamma types of both tocopherol and tocotrienol. Vitamin E is a member of the fat soluble vitamins.

Tocopherol comes from Greek to mean to carry a pregnancy. Early testing for vitamin E was performed on rats to determine what levels were needed for a healthy pregnancy.

Tocopherols are what most people think of when discussing vitamin E. When I first started in the industry most supplements were often made up of only alpha-tocopherol as it was thought to be the most active form of vitamin E. Tocopherols help to prevent free radical damage in the bodies membranes as well as having antioxidant activity. Research is also finding other possible uses in the body.

Synthetic tocopherol may be derived from petroleum products. It is labeled as dl-alpha-tocopherol. Natural tocopherol is labeled as d-alpha-tocopherol, d-gamma-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol and d-delta-tocopherol.  Natural vitamin E is much more biologically active and a pill only needs to contain 74% by weight of synthetic to be as biologically active.

Tocotrienols are also a part of the vitamin E family. While there has been a large body of research into vitamin E tocotrienol research is less than 1% of that research. While tocotrienols do have the same functions as vitamin E they also appear to have other functions in the body that may affect cholesterol and immune function. Hopefully further research will give us a clearer picture of their function in the human body.

Vitamin E deficiency is rare however diseases that cause fat to not be absorbed properly may contribute to low levels of vitamin E.  Examples would be Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cirrhosis, chronic pancreatitis, and more.  People on low fat diets may also have difficulty getting enough Vitamin E to meet minimum daily requirements. Due to vitamin E’s protection of membranes, deficiencies may present as poor nerve conduction, ataxia and myopathies. As an antioxidant vitamin E deficiency can also cause anemia due to oxidative damage of red blood cells.

High doses of vitamin E (100mg) are contraindicated for those on warfarin. Individuals with vitamin K deficiencies need to also be cautious of high dosages of vitamin E. Individuals with bleeding disorders of any chronic bleeding problem such as ulcers should also be cautious of high vitamin E doses.  Mothers that are nursing or pregnant shouldn’t take dosages above the RDA. Be aware that vitamin E should be stopped one month prior to surgery to help normalize bleeding times.

Vitamin E is found mostly in unrefined oils. Oils such as wheat germ, safflower, sunflower, olive and canola are rich sources of tocopherols. Tocotrienols are found in palm, rice and coconut oils.

I like to use vitamin E that is a combination of all 4 tocopherols and all 4 tocotrienols. I want my supplement to have all 8 forms of the vitamin E compound as different forms may have different functionality. The supplement I personally use is Jarrow Formulas familE.


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About John Montague DC

John Montague DC is the owner of WebVitamins. He is active in the industry and is currently president of the NPA East.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Research in Int J Cancer 2010 shows that gamma tocotrienol inhibits prostate cancer stem cell.


  1. [...] of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), so I was excited to read about a new study showing vitamin E lowered the risks of ALS. ALS is a terrible disease and often causes a lot of suffering. [...]

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