8 Types of Vitamin E (Only 1 Can Help Your Brain)

Vitamins are good for you, right? Then how come so many health “experts” keep raising doubts about the safety of vitamin E? Amping up the fear are published, peer-reviewed studies that seem to show taking vitamin E may hasten your demise and increase your risk of diseases like cancer.

But don’t be too hasty to give up on vitamin E supplements – much less avoid E-rich foods like spinach, avocado or walnuts. If you truly understand this nutrient, you’ll realize it can help keep your brain functioning well into old age.

The complicating factor in this scientific analysis is that not everything labeled vitamin E is the same substance. At least eight different forms of vitamin E are found in nature, and adding to the confusion are synthesized, i.e. manufactured varieties. Some of these varieties may, indeed, be useless for health. But other forms help protect your health and brain function. But you have to know which is which.

The first thing you should do is check to see if the vitamin E in your supplement is a natural form or a manufactured variety. The body is much more efficient at using the natural form. Most of the synthetic form is physiologically useless. On supplement packages, synthetic forms of vitamin E are generally denoted as dl-tocopherols, while the more desirable natural forms are the d-tocopherols.

The eight natural forms of vitamin E consist of four tocopherols, each with a different role in the body, plus four more substances called tocotrienols. The four tocopherols are denoted Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma.

The Best Vitamin E

Knowledgeable vitamin E researchers point out that studies that show no benefit to vitamin E almost always focus on synthetic vitamin E or involve people who only take alpha tocopherol.

But when researchers take into account all forms of Vitamin E, their results actually turn up significant health benefits.

For example, a Swedish study found that older people who have high levels of several forms of vitamin E circulating in their blood enjoy a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.i

As research leader Francesca Mangialasche points out: “Vitamin E is a family of eight natural components, but most studies related to Alzheimer’s disease investigate only one of these components, alpha tocopherol. We hypothesized that all the vitamin E family members could be important in protecting against AD (Alzheimer’s disease). If confirmed, this result has implications for both individuals and society, as 70 percent of all dementia cases in the general population occur in people over 75 years of age, and the study suggests a protective effect of vitamin E against AD in individuals aged 80+.”

The Swedish study examined blood samples from 232 people over the age of 80 who were clear-minded at the start of the research. Six years later, the scientists found that 57 of the participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease.

When the researchers looked at levels of the eight natural vitamin E components in the blood samples taken at the initial stage of the study, they found that the people who had the highest level of various forms of the vitamin enjoyed a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s of up to 54 percent. Their risk of Alzheimer’s was less than half that of the people with low levels.

Combination Counts

Mangialasche point out that vitamin E’s protective effect appears to be linked to the combination of the various forms of the vitamin.

“Elderly people as a group are large consumers of vitamin E supplements, which usually contain only alpha tocopherol, and this often at high doses”, says Mangialasche. “Our findings need to be confirmed by other studies, but they open up the possibility that the balanced presence of different vitamin E forms can have an important neuroprotective effect.”

The lesson is clear: If you take vitamin E, make sure you take a supplement that has natural E and includes a mixture of the various forms. That offers your best bet for brain and health protection.

The research I’ve seen suggests that the four tocotrienols are the most powerful and effective forms of vitamin E – NOT the four tocopherols. Unfortunately, tocotrienol supplements tend to be expensive and harder to find. But I make sure I take a tocotrienol supplement every other day. On the alternate days, I take a supplement that contains a mixture of all four tocopherols (this supplement also contains a sprinkling of tocotrienols, but probably not enough for maximum benefit).


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20413888