Ammu K Radhakrishnan Professor of Pathology (Immunology), International Medical University Malaysia
Vitamin E has long been known as an antioxidant, capable of destroying potentially harmful free radicals in our body. There are two main types of vitamin E: tocopherols and tocotrienols. To date, tocopherols have been extensively researched, and nearly all the vitamin E supplements available today are derived from tocopherols. Tocotrienols, compared to tocopherols, are only starting to receive more attention from researchers, but even at this early stage, research is uncovering a considerable amount of promising potential benefits.
HealthToday sits down with Professor Ammu Radhakrishnan, who shares with us a study, in which she was involved, that demonstrates the potential benefits of tocotrienols to our body’s defense against infections.
Boosting the immune system
There had been some promising results on tests conducted on animals such as mice, which suggest that tocotrienols can give our immune system a boost. However, does this translate to humans as well?
Prof Ammu points to a 2-month clinical trial, which was conducted on 108 healthy, non-smoking women aged 18 to 25 years. The volunteers were randomly assigned into 2 groups. One would receive 400 mg of tocotrienol-rich fraction (TRF) supplement every day, while another group would receive a placebo. She explains that it was a double-blinded trial, so even the researchers did not know which team would be getting the TRF supplement. On day 28 of the trial, these volunteers were then given the tetanus toxoid vaccination.
The results, published in 2011 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that volunteers who received TRF supplementation had:
- Increased production of antibody (IgG) against tetanus toxoid. This can help the host immune system to better protect the host against this toxin, which is produced by a type of bacteria.
- Increased production of interferon-γ and interleukin-4, cytokines that play an important role in triggering the immune response.
- Significant increase in total levels of vitamin E in the plasma.
After analyzing the results, the researchers offered the following conclusions:
- Daily supplementation of 400 mg TRF can play a beneficial role in strengthening the immune response in healthy people following vaccination.
Therefore, tocotrienol supplementation may be useful if we are considering a natural way to boost our immune system. People with weakened defense against infections, such as people with diabetes and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, especially, may find tocotrienol supplementation useful.
The Palm Oil Connection
Palm oil is one of the richest sources of tocotrienols, so it is unsurprising that we are also a major manufacturer of tocotrienol supplements in addition to palm oil. In fact, an innovative technology to extract tocotrienol from palm oil is patented by a Malaysian company!
Reference: Mahalingam, D, et al. (2011). Effects of supplementation with tocotrienol-rich fraction on immune response to tetanus toxoid immunization in normal healthy volunteers. Eur J Clin Nutr.;65(1):63-9. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.184. Epub 2010 Sep 22.