While commercialization of soy-derived tocopherols began in the 1950s, tocotrienols didn’t arrive until the 1990s, first from palm (1992), then from rice bran oil (1999), and finally from annatto (2003).
And to make matters more complicated, each subgroup also contains four different molecules: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta, all with distinct benefits.
One firm aiming to help the industry navigate through the vitamin E maze is DeltaGold supplier American River Nutrition, the only manufacturer of natural annatto-derived tocotrienols that are free of tocopherols.
FoodNavigator-USA (FNU) caught up with founder and president Dr. Barrie Tan (BT) and product manager Anne Trias (AT) after the firm received a no objections letter from the FDA about its self-determined GRAS notification for DeltaGold.
FNU: Could we see a new wave of delta-tocotrienol-fortified food and beverage products?
BT: The market for tocotrienols and DeltaGold can potentially be very large in food protection and fortification. In many food systems, tocotrienol proves to be a much more potent antioxidant than tocopherol, and food manufacturers have the option to choose a much lower dose of tocotrienols compared with tocopherols to protect their products from oxidation.
Furthermore, manufacturers can now add tocotrienols back into many grain-based foods that typically contain these nutrients, but have lost them during processing. These include wheat, oat, barley and rye, as well as various oils and fats.
How successful has DeltaGold been in the food market?
AT: DeltaGold is fairly new in the food market, but has been a dietary supplement ingredient since 2003. On the label, it is listed as vitamin E tocotrienol (from annatto).
Which application areas present the biggest growth opportunities?
AT: Food categories that include fats and oils, such as baked goods, cereals, chewing gum, dairy analogs, frozen dairy desserts, milk, milk products, nutritional bars, nuts, and processed fruits.
Complimentary adjuncts to tocotrienols include omega-3s, vitamin D, CoQ10, and inflammation-opposing combos with ingredients such as EGCG, curcumin, quercetin, and resveratrol.
FNU: How discerning are customers and consumers about the different forms of vitamin E?
AT: While tocotrienols may not yet be as familiar as vitamin D or omega-3s in the mind of consumers, it is an up-and-coming ingredient, with more than 50% of related research published only in the last five years.
While we are still diligently working on educating consumers and health professionals, it has become clear that tocotrienols have now stepped into the limelight of vitamin E research, and have proven to contain some exceptional benefits that are not shared by their ‘older’ tocopherol siblings.
FNU: What are some of the specific health benefits of toctrienols?
AT: Today, the brightest spot for tocotrienol research is in cellular health and cardiovascular disease. Emergent fields of tocotrienol research are promising, and include angiogenesis, bioavailability, bone health, gastric injury, inflammation, life extension, obesity, radiation protection, skin health, tocopherol interference, and cognitive impairment.
In addition to its superior antioxidant, hypocholesterolemic, and anti-thrombotic activities, tocotrienol has shown consistent cellular health benefits.
FNU: Why do you have concerns about alpha-tocopherol?
BT: Alpha-tocopherol is usually considered ‘the’ vitamin E, and is found in most multivitamins and is supplemented in foods. But this is a mistake. We think that alpha-tocopherol needs to be de-emphasized; delta- and gamma-tocopherol need to be emphasized; and delta- and gamma-tocotrienol need to be emphasized even more.
As one researcher noted, ‘a robust cancer prevention or anticancer activity of alpha-tocopherol has never been shown in studies with animal models or cell lines.’
Alpha-tocopherol may be a liability to all other forms of vitamin E, tocopherols and tocotrienols alike. The many formulations in the marketplace containing full spectrum vitamin E - which typically include 100-400IU of alpha-tocopherol and 100-200mg mixed tocopherols - clearly show that the benefits of gamma- and delta-tocopherols are lost.
What’s the difference between different sources of tocotrienols?
BT: The three major sources of tocotrienols are rice, palm, and annatto. The ratio of tocopherol-to-tocotrienol in each is 50:50, 25:75, and 0.1:99.9, respectively.
So while palm and rice yield a tocotrienol-tocopherol mixture, annatto is the only tocopherol-free source of tocotrienols. This is an important feature, since research of the past 20 years has shown alpha-tocopherol as a culprit in interfering with the uptake and function of tocotrienols.
FNU: Are some tocotrienols better than others?
BT: Delta- and gamma-tocotrienol’s superior function to that of alpha is due to structural differences. When it comes to vitamin E, smaller size increases dexterity and function [Delta has the smallest head, then gamma, then alpha].