Why Should You Avoid Taking Tocopherols?


In the pursuit of good health, dietary supplements often play a role in ensuring we meet our nutritional needs. However, not all supplements are created equal, and a critical discussion surrounds the potential risks associated with one widely celebrated component, tocopherol.

While these compounds, forming part of the vitamin E family, are renowned for their antioxidant properties, a growing body of evidence suggests that excessive intake, particularly in the form of alpha-tocopherol supplements, may have unintended consequences.

In this blog, we dive into the world of tocopherols, shedding light on their significance, sources, and potential drawbacks. We’ll also explore the alternative, tocotrienols, and why they might be healthier.

Tocopherol: What Is It?

Tocopherols are a group of compounds that belong to the vitamin E family. There are four types: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocopherols. These compounds play a vital role in our bodies by acting as antioxidants.

Their job is to counteract free radicals, preventing harm to our cells. Among these tocopherols, alpha-tocopherol is especially notable. It’s considered a powerful antioxidant and is often seen as the most effective form of vitamin E for our bodies.

“Mixed tocopherols” refers to a combination of different tocopherol forms often found in dietary supplements. While alpha-tocopherol is the most prevalent form in supplements, incorporating mixed tocopherols ensures a more comprehensive intake of vitamin E variants. This approach mimics the natural balance found in various food sources.

Tocopherol: Potential Harm

While tocopherols are generally recognized as beneficial for health, it’s important to acknowledge their potential drawbacks. The excessive consumption of alpha-tocopherol, especially in supplement form, has been linked to adverse effects.

Some studies indicate that high doses of alpha-tocopherol might interfere with the absorption and function of other tocopherol forms, potentially upsetting the delicate balance of vitamin E in the body.

Moreover, the antioxidant properties of tocopherols, though advantageous in moderate amounts, can pose risks at excessive levels. In certain situations, abundant antioxidants may disrupt the delicate oxidative balance within cells, leading to unintended consequences.

This highlights the importance of moderation and obtaining nutrients through a balanced diet rather than relying solely on supplements, emphasizing that even beneficial substances can have adverse effects when consumed in excess.

1. Made in the Lab

One significant drawback of tocopherols is that they are often produced synthetically in laboratories. Alpha-tocopherol acetate, a common form found in supplements, is a synthetic version of vitamin E.

While it mirrors the structure of natural tocopherols, there is ongoing debate about the efficacy and potential differences in how the body absorbs and utilizes synthetic forms compared to those naturally occurring in food sources.

2. Relatively Poor Antioxidant

Despite being hailed as antioxidants, tocopherols may not be as potent as other antioxidants, especially in isolation. They might even exhibit pro-oxidant behavior in certain situations, contributing to oxidative stress rather than alleviating it.

This raises concerns about their efficacy in combating free radicals and preventing cellular damage, challenging the perception of tocopherols as universally powerful antioxidants.

3. Less Bioavailable

Another drawback is the relatively low bioavailability of tocopherols, mainly when consumed in supplement form. Bioavailability refers to the body’s ability to absorb and utilize a substance. Tocopherols, especially when taken in isolation, might not be absorbed efficiently, limiting their effectiveness.

This challenges the notion that simply increasing tocopherol intake, primarily through supplements, guarantees enhanced health benefits.

4. Shift Towards Healthier Alternatives – Tocotrienols

Recognizing these limitations, there’s a growing interest in exploring alternatives to tocopherols. Tocotrienols, a lesser-known form of vitamin E, have emerged as a potential healthier alternative. Tocotrienols share the antioxidant properties of tocopherols but possess a distinct molecular structure that may offer superior health benefits.

Studies suggest that tocotrienols exhibit better antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, making them a promising choice for those seeking a more effective and bioavailable form of vitamin E.

In light of the potential drawbacks associated with tocopherols, health-conscious individuals are exploring alternatives, and tocotrienols are emerging as a compelling option. Tocotrienols are another subgroup of vitamin E, closely related to tocopherols but with a structural difference in their side chains.

This structural variance is believed to contribute to tocotrienols’ unique health benefits. Research indicates that tocotrienols may possess more potent antioxidant properties than tocopherols and exhibit anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects.

Tocotrienols have demonstrated a remarkable ability to reduce cholesterol levels and exhibit powerful antioxidant properties thanks to their unique farnesylated tail, which allows them to move with superior mobility across cell membranes.

These attributes make tocotrienols an intriguing choice for those seeking to optimize their vitamin E intake without the potential pitfalls of excessive tocopherol consumption.

How to Incorporate Tocotrienols Into Your Diet?

Shifting from tocopherols to tocotrienols involves consciously diversifying your dietary sources. While tocotrienols are not as prevalent in familiar food sources as tocopherols, they can be found in certain grains, palm oil, and rice bran oil. As awareness of tocotrienols grows, more food products and supplements containing this alternative form of vitamin E are becoming available.

It’s important to note that the transition should be gradual, and consulting with a healthcare professional or nutritionist is advisable to ensure a well-balanced and individualized approach to vitamin E intake.


In the complicated world of nutrition, understanding the nuances of essential elements like tocopherols is vital for informed decision-making. While tocopherols, particularly alpha-tocopherol, have been celebrated for their antioxidant prowess, it’s necessary to recognize their potential downsides at high doses.

As we advocate for a holistic approach to health, exploring alternatives such as tocotrienols provides a promising avenue. The emerging research on tocotrienols suggests that these compounds offer a more nuanced and potentially superior spectrum of health benefits.

In the quest for optimal well-being, embracing a diverse and balanced diet that incorporates a variety of vitamin E sources, both tocopherols and tocotrienols, can contribute to a healthier, more resilient body.

As we navigate the dynamic landscape of nutritional science, the choice between tocopherols and tocotrienols becomes personal, guided by the pursuit of longevity and vitality.

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