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Open Access Review

Bioavailability of tocotrienols: evidence in human studies

Ju-Yen Fu14*, Hui-Ling Che12, Doryn Meam-Yee Tan13 and Kim-Tiu Teng1

Author Affiliations

1 Malaysian Palm Oil Board, 6 Persiaran Institusi, Bandar Baru Bangi, 43000 Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia

2 Department of Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, 50603, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

3 International Medical University, No. 126, Jalan 19/ 155B, Bukit Jalil 57000, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

4 Nutrition Unit, Division of Product Development and Advisory Services, Malaysian Palm Oil Board, 6 Persiaran Institusi, Bandar Baru Bangi, 43000, Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia

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Nutrition & Metabolism 2014, 11:5  doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-5

Published: 13 January 2014

Abstract

As a minor component of vitamin E, tocotrienols were evident in exhibiting biological activities such as neuroprotection, radio-protection, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and lipid lowering properties which are not shared by tocopherols. However, available data on the therapeutic window of tocotrienols remains controversial. It is important to understand the absorption and bioavailability mechanisms before conducting in-depth investigations into the therapeutic efficacy of tocotrienols in humans. In this review, we updated current evidence on the bioavailability of tocotrienols from human studies. Available data from five studies suggested that tocotrienols may reach its target destination through an alternative pathway despite its low affinity for α-tocopherol transfer protein. This was evident when studies reported considerable amount of tocotrienols detected in HDL particles and adipose tissues after oral consumption. Besides, plasma concentrations of tocotrienols were shown to be higher when administered with food while self-emulsifying preparation of tocotrienols was shown to enhance the absorption of tocotrienols. Nevertheless, mixed results were observed based on the outcome from 24 clinical studies, focusing on the dosages, study populations and formulations used. This may be due to the variation of compositions and dosages of tocotrienols used, suggesting a need to understand the formulation of tocotrienols in the study design. Essentially, implementation of a control diet such as AHA Step 1 diet may influence the study outcomes, especially in hypercholesterolemic subjects when lipid profile might be modified due to synergistic interaction between tocotrienols and control diet. We also found that the bioavailability of tocotrienols were inconsistent in different target populations, from healthy subjects to smokers and diseased patients. In this review, the effect of dosage, composition and formulation of tocotrienols as well as study populations on the bioavailability of tocotrienols will be discussed.

Keywords:
Tocotrienols; Bioavailability; Human; Metabolism; Absorption; Vitamin E; Palm oil