Improving immunity with vitamin E

Published on August 10, 2014 on The Star

Written by: Tan Shiow Chin

A doctor starts taking tocotrienols, one of the two types of vitamin E, and discovers that he gets sick less often.

IT is an unfortunate fact that those tasked with treating us when we are sick are oftentimes victims of illness themselves.

After all, if you are interacting with infectious, sick people all the time, the chances of you catching a bug is, naturally, rather high.

Dr Paul Victor is one such doctor.

As a general practitioner in an urban area, he regularly gets patients with the typical complaints of upper respiratory tract infections, i.e. flu, fever, running nose and cough.

Unsurprisingly, his immune system isn’t always able to quickly fight off the assaults these germs launch when infected droplets from the patient come into contact with him – usually through the expulsion of such droplets into the air via sneezing or coughing.

This then results in him getting sick himself.

So, what was his solution? Obviously, not seeing patients was not an option.

This is where tocotrienols came in.

Prevention before medication

Says Dr Victor: “I’ve always liked to look into homeopathic treatment, not just allopathic medicine.”

Homeopathy is based on the belief that the body has the ability to heal itself, while allopathic medicine is the modern type where drugs and physical interventions are used to treat the patient.

He shares that he first heard about tocotrienols while reading about research being done on palm oil to extract it. Palm oil is one of the richest natural sources of tocotrienols.

While most people are familiar with vitamin E, less are probably aware that this vitamin actually consists of two types, i.e. tocopherols and tocotrienols.

These two types have the same chemical structure, but tocotrienols have three double bonds in their side chain where tocopherols have only single bonds.

Furthermore, each group has four members, namely, alpha, beta, gamma and delta.

The members of each group are isomers, which are compounds that have the same chemical formula, but different arrangements of the various atoms within them. These unique arrangements give each isomer its own chemical properties.

Research has shown that tocotrienols have 40 to 60 times higher antioxidant activity than tocopherols, thus, “giving the potency to vitamin E”, according to Dr Victor.

How then, does this relate to falling sick?

When the immune system goes into combat mode to fight off infections, one of the results is an increased production of free radicals as a byproduct of the metabolic defence process.

Free radicals are molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons in their atoms.

Because of the inherent instability of having an unpaired electron, these molecules then go about trying to “steal” an electron from other atoms in the body to partner up with their unpaired electron.

This process not only creates more free radicals, as the atom that has had its electron “stolen” is now itself a free radical, but also causes damage to the body by destabilising essential biological structures like DNA, lipids, proteins and carbohydrates.

Thus, our body requires antioxidants to neutralise these free radicals before they wreck havoc.

This is the main reason why vitamin E is essential to our health.

Walking the talk

Coming from a research background – he worked in two pharmaceutical companies before opening his own clinic – the studies on tocotrienols and its many health benefits intrigued Dr Victor.

He shares: “I started taking tocotrienols myself because you see patients everyday, they’re sick (and) coughing at you, and I noticed I got sick less.”

So pleased was he with the results of his tocotrienol supplementation that he started recommending them to some of his patients.

He shares: “Then, I started offering it to a certain group of patients – those who had been diagnosed with or were recovering from breast cancer.

“This is because the chemotherapy they undergo weakens the immune system, and this helps boost their immune system.”

He opines that with so many different types of bacteria and viruses out there, it is better to strengthen the immune system so that the body can better fight them off.

In addition, studies have shown that tocotrienols both promote breast cancer cell death, as well as work synergistically with tamoxifen – a common breast cancer drug – to treat breast cancer.

Dr Victor notes that tocotrienols also offer protective benefits to both the cardiovascular and neurological systems.

“Tocotrienols have been proven without doubt to protect against heart disease, decrease cholesterol and protect blood vessels.

“And now, research on neuroprotection also shows it helps protect the nerves.”

According to research, tocotrienols protect against cardiovascular disease by decreasing artery stiffness, which occurs due to age and the accumulation of fatty plaques on our artery walls, and high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for many cardiovascular conditions.

Tocotrienols also increase the amount of an organic compound called farnesol that accelerates the decay of the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme, which is needed to produce cholesterol in our body, thus, indirectly decreasing the body’s cholesterol levels.

Meanwhile, tocotrienols help protect against stroke by protecting nerve cells against injury and increasing blood flow in the brain during a stroke.

Long-term benefits

While there are many vitamin E products on the market, they are divided into those containing mainly tocopherols and those made up mostly of tocotrienols.

Dr Victor notes that because of tocotrienol’s higher antioxidant activity, such products are priced higher.

“That’s why when people go to the pharmacy to buy vitamin E, they see that tocotrienols are more expensive than tocopherols,” he says.

He adds that tocotrienol products themselves are also priced differently.

The brand he recommends costs about RM180 for 30 capsules, and he admits that it can be hard to convince patients to fork out that amount of money.

But, he says that he recommends that particular brand because of its superior bioavailability, meaning that more of the tocotrienols actually get absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the body.

Dr Victor cautions that the benefits of taking tocotrienols are not always immediately obvious.

“Vitamins are a bit more subjective, but those who take it can see the benefits in the long run,” he says.

“For example, after about a year, they might realise that they only got sick about two times, compared to the higher rate previously.”

However, he also warns that people should not excessively dose themselves with tocotrienols.

“You also cannot take too much vitamin E, because some studies have shown that too much can inversely damage the heart.”


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