Vitamin E Different Forms: Tocotrienols vs Tocopherols

Vitamin E Different Forms: Tocotrienols vs Tocopherols

There are different forms of Vitamin E, and they are divided among Tocopherols and Tocotrienols. The prime distinction between tocotrienols and tocopherols is that the latter one consists of saturated isoprenoid side chains. 

However, tocotrienols consist of unsaturated isoprenoid side chains. These are among the most crucial biological compounds that play an essential part in biochemical processes that occur in the human body. 

In this blog, we will give you insight on Tocopherol vs Tocotrienol, so keep reading!

What Are Tocopherols?

These are the organic compounds that usually fall under the methylated phenol group. Many of the methylated phenols contain some Vitamin E activity, which leads to the formation of its name. 

Supplements and European food items such as sunflower and olive oil are significant sources of tocopherols (specifically alpha-tocopherols). Studies showed that consumption of gamma-tocopherols fulfills 70% of Vitamin E intake and they are usually present in American food, such as corn and soybean oil.[1]

There are eight distinct forms of Vitamin E, including four tocopherols & four tocotrienols. These chemicals have a chromane ring structure, allowing them to penetrate biological membranes and reduce free radical concentration. The hydroxyl group, on the other hand, donates an atom of hydrogen.

In most cases, alpha-tocopherol is the form of Vitamin E that humans absorb most preferentially. This molecule is chiral because it has three stereocenters. 

The variation in tocopherol forms is due to the fact that various arrangements of groups around the stereocenter produce distinct stereocenters. However, tocopherols play a crucial role as free radical quenchers and radical scavengers.

What Are Tocotrienols?

A form of Vitamin E, tocotrienols are an organic chemical class. The chemical exists in four main structures: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The unsaturated isoprenoid side chains with three carbon-carbon double bonds are characteristic of tocotrienols.

This form of Vitamin E is mostly found in vegetable oils, including those from palm trees, rice bran, wheat, barley, saw palmetto, annatto, almonds, and some cereals. 

Vitamin E comes in a variety of configurations, and although some of them are chemical antioxidants, they are not all chemically equivalent to one another. Tocotrienols' antioxidant activity is often examined with the sort of accomplishment that is being assessed.

A Look At The Similarities

Tocopherol and tocotrienol are the two main types of Vitamin E. Although their chemical structures are quite similar, these two substances vary somewhat in how they work in the body. The capacity to prevent oxidation of cells is a shared property of tocopherol and tocotrienol. 

Both of these things help preserve cell lipids and slow down cell aging by donating electrons to free radicals. Tocopherols have received the lion's share of Vitamin E studies. Still, tocotrienols are starting to make waves for what seems to be their capacity to combat oxidative stress and related issues. 

As antioxidants, tocopherol and tocotrienol serve comparable functions and are ultimately classified as members of the Vitamin E family.

Differences in Molecular Structure

The distinct molecular structures of tocopherols and tocotrienols cause them to perform differently despite their commonalities. Like a tadpole, these two groups of Vitamin E have a head that houses the antioxidant properties of the Vitamin and a tail that is called a sidechain. 

The most noticeable difference between the two groups is in the tail portion of the molecule. Tocopherol has an unsaturated side chain lacking double bonds, whereas tocotrienol has one with two.

Tocotrienol can cross cell membranes forty to sixty times quicker than tocopherol because its tail section has two bonds, which shorten the molecule and increase its flexibility. 

The conventional wisdom is that tocotrienols are superior antioxidants. Tocotrienols are more effective than tocopherols in nourishing tissues with saturated fatty layers, like the brain and liver.

Research has proven that Vitamin E comes with great anticancer and neuroprotective effects and are more effective antioxidant. [2] 

Organic vs Synthetic Sources

If your doctor has cleared you to take a Vitamin E supplement, you should know that organic and synthetic versions of the Vitamin are quite different. You may find d-alpha tocopheryl acetate, d-alpha tocopherol, or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate stated on the organic or natural Vitamin E label. 

The dl-prefix indicates that the Vitamin in question is synthetic Vitamin E. Whenever possible, go for organic supplements rather than synthetic ones. This is because organic supplements include alpha-tocopherol, the most physiologically active type of Vitamin E

Since alpha-tocopherol only includes one isomer, it is far more effectively absorbed by the body compared to synthetic alternatives, which have eight isomers. The dietary source of tocotrienols is not as common as that of tocopherol. 

Although tocotrienol supplementation has long been popular, the presence of alpha-tocopherol in palm and rice bran oils renders these oils ineffective. You may get tocotrienol supplements that are 100% natural in the form of tablets or capsules.

The organic tocotrienol option is superior since it contains solely tocotrienol and not any of the other isomers.

Antioxidative Properties

The antioxidant properties of both Vitamins E are well-documented. However, because of its distinct chemical structure, natural Vitamin E is a much more potent antioxidant. Quicker and more effective mobility around cells is made possible by the shorter tail. 

Tocotrienols include a series of unsaturated polymers in their chemical structure. The capacity to enter saturated fat cells within the liver and brain results from this. 

The immune system relies on this chemical. It safeguards brain cells against harm, tumors, and malignancies. It helps injured cells recover as well. Compared to other antioxidants, tocopherol is somewhat weak.


Vitamin E is among the most important minerals that are required by the human body for effective functioning. Thus, this write-up has given a brief classification of Vitamin E Tocotrienols vs Tocopherols along with their antioxidative properties. 

Disclaimer: These statements have not been assessed by the FDA. The information contained within this page is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.

References -: 

  1. Dietrich M, Traber MG, Jacques PF, Cross CE, Hu Y, Block G. Does γ-tocopherol play a role in the primary prevention of heart disease and cancer? A review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2006 Aug 1;25(4):292-9.
  2. Nesaretnam K, Yew WW, Wahid MB. Tocotrienols and cancer: beyond antioxidant activity. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology. 2007 Apr;109(4):445-52.
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So which one is better ?

Libuse Leman

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