Palm Tocotrienols Strengthen Bones !

The Vitamin E family is large, consisting of at least 8 closely-similar structural forms ("isomers") which are grouped into two "clans"-the tocopherols and the tocotrienols. The tocopherols have a distinct advantage in terms of biological activity as measured by conventional means, but badly lose out to the tocotrienols in terms of antioxidant potency in biological systems.

News is out that free radicals can activate the "bad" osteoclasts, a type of cells whose job are to breakdown old bone cells, thus, weakening the overall bone structure. In a complicated cascade of events where the "bad" osteoclasts work overtime compared to the "good" osteoblasts ("bone builder cells"), you get impairment of calcium absorption, utilisation and deposition in bone. The net result is bone resorption, giving you brittle bones of low mineral density which are in danger of crumbling!

Tocotrienols have impressed the global scientific community with documented beneficial health effect such as blood cholesterol reduction, regression of carotid artery plaques in stroke patients, and inhibition of growth and spread of human breast cancer cells! But can these amazing Vitamin E species with their strong antioxidant "power" neutralise the nasty free radicals and help strengthen the bone? Well, researchers from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) hoped to shed some light on this poser when they conducted a series of related experiments using the female Sprague-Dawley (SD) model.

In the study, the investigators basically compared the effects of palm Vitamin E versus alpha-tocopherol on bone calfication in normal female SD rats. The palm Vitamin E used consisted of a mixture of two-thirds tocotrienols and one-third alpha-tocopherol.

Female SD rats were fed a basal vitamin E-deficient diet or normal rat chow (RC) plus one of the followings: a) 30 mg palm vitamin E/kg rat weight, b) 60 mg palm vitamin E/Kg rat weight, or c) 30 mg alpha tocopherol/Kg rat weight. After 8 months, the end variables measured were bone calcium content of the left femur and fifth lumbar vertebra, as well as serum biomarkers of bone metabolism namely, alkaline phosphatase and tartrate resistant acid phosphatase activity.

Two interesting points were noted in the results: Firstly, only animals on the vitamin E-deficient diets but not those on RC, benefited from palm vitamin E supplementation as indicated by an increase in bone calcium content.

Secondly, the alpha tocopherol supplementation did not appear to provide this beneficial effect on bone health which suggests that the increase in bone calcium content achieved with the palm Vitamin E supplementation was attributed to the tocotrienol component in palm Vitamin E.

It was unfortunate that the researchers were not able to demonstrate a concomitant increase in the levels of the serum biomarkers measure in the (vitamin E deficient + palm vitamin E) groups which would otherwise have strengthened the findings.

Nevertheless, the take home message is that if you want strong bones, increase your intake of foods rich in tocotrienols!

Adapted from Mohamed et al. (2002). Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr, 11(3):194-199.

Source : Nutrition Briefs, January 2003. Published by Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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