The Health Benefits of Mixed Tocopherols

Some forms of tocopherols may have positive health effects

mixed tocopherol capsules

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Tocopherols are a family of compounds that together make up different forms of vitamin E. When you buy a supplement that's advertised as "mixed tocopherols," you're purchasing a mixture of several different types of vitamin E.

There are eight naturally occurring forms of vitamin E, including four tocopherols: alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol. Each has a slightly different chemical structure. These tocopherols often are combined in supplements with tocotrienols, similar vitamin E compounds that also come in alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta- forms.

Mixed tocopherols are found in oils (including olive oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil), nuts, seeds, and in some leafy green vegetables, such as spinach.

Health Benefits

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that serves as an antioxidant in your body, scavenging potentially harmful free radicals that can damage your cells.

Vitamin E plays a role in strengthening your immune system, preventing clogged arteries, and potentially in warding off cancer, helping to prevent eyesight loss, and even in preventing sunburns.

Alpha-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that's been studied the most, and it's the only form of vitamin E that's been proven to have an effect on the human body. Therefore, most supplements advertised simply as "vitamin E" contain this form of the vitamin. However, researchers have explored the potential health benefits of other forms of tocopherols, and there are hints that mixed tocopherols may contain some health benefits.

Studies on Vitamin E

For example, a study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology compared the effects of alpha-tocopherol to mixed tocopherols in a test tube model intended to look at how different tocopherols might help in cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that the mixed tocopherols performed better than the alpha-tocopherol by itself in inhibiting the process that leads to clogged arteries.

In addition, researchers in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging looked at whether different tocopherols might have a beneficial effect in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease. They found that all the different types of tocopherols appeared to have an effect on the process that leads to Alzheimer's disease, and suggested more research is needed into mixed tocopherols.

Finally, clinicians writing in the journal Cancer Prevention Research noted that alpha-tocopherol does not appear to help prevent cancer, and in fact was associated with a higher incidence of prostate cancer in one study where participants took vitamin E supplements in the form of alpha-tocopherol. However, gamma-tocopherol and delta-tocopherol may help to prevent cancer, the clinicians said, adding that more research into the different types of tocopherols is needed.

Possible Side Effects

You shouldn't worry about getting too many mixed tocopherols in food—these forms of vitamin E are found in mainly healthy foods, and it's not possible to eat enough of those foods to get too much vitamin E.

However, health experts warn that taking too much vitamin E (and other fat-soluble vitamins) in the form of supplements can be harmful. Since mixed tocopherols are forms of vitamin E, this caution applies to them.

For example, very high doses of vitamin E might inhibit your blood's ability to form clots. This can lead to bleeding and possibly even to a form of stroke. In addition, studies have hinted that men who took higher doses of vitamin E in the form of supplements were at higher risk of developing prostate cancer. While the research wasn't designed to show that the vitamin E actually caused the increase in prostate cancer, the results were concerning.

You should check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking mixed tocopherol supplements if you're taking other medications. Vitamin E—in the form of mixed tocopherols or pure alpha-tocopherol—can cause bleeding in people taking blood thinner medications such as Coumadin. Taking vitamin E or other antioxidant supplements while undergoing treatment for cancer could alter the effectiveness of those treatments, research has found.

And, one study found that taking vitamin E in addition to other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, reduced the cardiovascular protection offered by also taking statin drugs plus niacin to reduce cholesterol.

Dosage and Preparation

Average daily recommended intakes for vitamin E range from 6 IU for newborn babies to 28.4 IU for breastfeeding teens and women. Most teens and adults (including pregnant women) should get 22.4 IU per day of vitamin E. Since mixed tocopherols are vitamin E, this dosage recommendation applies to products containing mixed tocopherols.

Because of the health risks associated with getting too much vitamin E, the National Institutes of Health recommends limiting total intake via supplements to 1,500 IU per day for supplements made from natural forms of vitamin E and 1,100 IU per day for supplements made from synthetic vitamin E. Most mixed tocopherol supplement products come from natural sources.

What to Look For

Mixed tocopherols are a relatively new supplement product, and there's little medical research to determine which types of these products are best.

Manufacturers offer products that are primarily alpha-tocopherol with some mixed tocopherols, products that include all four forms of tocopherol in roughly equal amounts, and products featuring mainly gamma-tocopherol but including other mixed tocopherols. It's also possible to find vitamin E complex products that include mixed tocopherols and mixed tocotrienols.

When purchasing a mixed tocopherol supplement, you should look for a well-known and well-respected supplement brand that adheres to standards promulgated by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. You also should avoid purchasing a mixed tocopherol product that offers high doses—even 400 IU, the amount found in many mixed tocopherol supplements, may be too high.

Other Questions

You may wonder why some manufactured food products—especially baked goods—include mixed tocopherols in their ingredients lists. They function as a preservative in these foods because they prevent fats from going rancid. Tocopherols also are used in dog food as preservatives.

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Article Sources

  • Grimm MO et al. Vitamin E: Curse or Benefit in Alzheimer's Disease? A Systematic Investigation of the Impact of α-, γ- and δ-Tocopherol on Aß Generation and Degradation in Neuroblastoma Cells. The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging. 2015 Jun;19(6):646-56. doi: 10.1007/s12603-015-0506-z.

  • Meilin L et al. Mixed Tocopherols Have a Stronger Inhibitory Effect on Lipid Peroxidation Than α-Tocopherol Alone. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2002 May;39(5):714-21.

  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin E fact sheet.

  • Yang CS et al. Does vitamin E prevent or promote cancer? Cancer Prevention Research (Philadelphia, Pa.).2012 May;5(5):701-5. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-12-0045. Epub 2012 Apr 3.