Tocopherols andĀ tocotrienolsĀ (Vitamin E) are part of a group of “minor components” of main interest, present in the unsaponifiable fraction of many samples. Their importance in biological, metabolical and nutritional studies makes determination of tocopherols and related compounds of major interest. Present work critically reviews the different ways to perform sample pre-treatment and analysis of these compounds, related to the matrices, other analytes to be measured, sensitivity, and simplicity. The review includes well referenced tables that provide in-depth summaries of methodology for the chromatographic analysis of alpha-tocopherol and related compounds in foods, pharmaceuticals, plants, animal tissues and other matrices.

The metabolism of tocotrienol remains unclear. We studied the distribution of tocotrienol in rats fed the tocotrienol-rich fraction extracted from palm oil. We have previously shown that dietary sesame seeds markedly elevate the tocopherol concentration in rats. In this study, we also examined the effect of dietary sesame seeds on the tocotrienol concentration. In experiment 1, rats (4-wk-old) were fed the diet with alpha-tocopherol alone or with alpha- and gamma-tocotrienols. In experiment 2, the effect of dietary sesame seeds on tocopherol and tocotrienol concentrations in rats fed the diet with tocopherol and tocotrienol was studied. The rats were fed the experimental diet for 8 wk in both experiments. alpha- and gamma-Tocotrienols accumulated in the adipose tissue and skin, but not in plasma or other tissues, of the rats fed tocotrienols. Dietary sesame seeds elevated (P < 0.05) tocotrienol concentrations in the adipose tissue and skin, but did not affect their concentrations in other tissues or in plasma. The gamma-tocopherol concentration in all tissues and plasma of rats fed gamma-tocopherol was extremely low but was elevated (P < 0.05) in many tissues by feeding sesame seeds. These data suggest that the transport and tissue uptake of vitamin E isoforms are different. Dietary sesame seeds elevate the concentrations of both tocopherols and tocotrienols.

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Vitamin E consists of a number of compounds, tocopherols and tocotrienols, that function as lipid-soluble antioxidants. A hypothesis is that vitamin E may slow the progression of atherosclerosis by blocking the oxidative modification of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and thus decrease its uptake into the arterial lumen. Basic science and animal studies have generally supported this hypothesis. Observational studies have primarily assessed patients with no established coronary heart disease (CHD), and results have generally supported a protective role of vitamin E in CHD. Early primary and secondary prevention clinical trials (Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Protection study and Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study) showed mixed results. Despite years of encouraging evidence from basic science and observational studies, 3 large randomized clinical trials (Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto miocardico, Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation, and Primary Prevention Project) with a combined total of more than 25,000 patients failed to show a significant benefit with vitamin E taken as a dietary supplement for the prevention of CHD. Four large randomized primary prevention trials currently under way should add to our knowledge. The American Heart Association has recommended consumption of a balanced diet with emphasis on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables but has made no recommendations regarding vitamin E supplementation for the general population. Although vitamin E supplementation seems to be safe for most people, recommendations from health care professionals should reflect the uncertainty of established benefit as demonstrated in clinical trials.

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