Clinical study confirms cardiovascular benefits of annatto tocotrienols

Vitamin E tocotrienols from annatto lower lipid parameters and reduce inflammatory biomarkers associated with cardiovascular disease, suggests a new clinical study

Vitamin E tocotrienols from annatto lower lipid parameters and reduce inflammatory biomarkers associated with cardiovascular disease, suggests a new clinical study.

Annatto tocotrienol — mainly composed of delta-tocotrienol — improves cardiovascular risk factors including cholesterol, triglycerides and inflammatory cytokines, according to clinical findings published in the British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research.

Of doses ranging from 125–750mg/day, an optimum is 250mg/day, which — along with a healthy diet — decreased lipid levels significantly after only 4 weeks. Higher doses, by contrast, did not reduce lipid levels, but may be useful for other, non-cardiovascular clinical applications. Notably, throughout the 30-week study period, no adverse events were reported for any of the dosages, reflecting the safety of the supplement.

‘The results confirm that consumption of delta-tocotrienol plus AHA Step-1 diet causes significant reduction in serum lipid parameters and several cytokines at a low optimal dose,’ concluded the researchers, led by Asaf Qureshi of the University of Missouri. Dr Qureshi was the first researcher to discover tocotrienol’s lipid-lowering properties in 1986.

Supplement details

Vitamin E is a family of eight separate but related molecules: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta). Although alpha-tocopherol exists in most multivitamins and is supplemented in foods, a growing base of evidence suggests that this popular vitamin E interferes with the uptake and function of tocotrienols.

Tocotrienols are derived from three major sources, including rice, palm and annatto. Annatto provides the only tocopherol-free source of tocotrienols. The current study used the DeltaGold annatto tocotrienol ingredient supplied by American River Nutrition, and typically contains ~90% delta- and 10% gamma-tocotrienol.

Study details

Some of the most well-known cardiovascular disease risk factors include abnormally high lipid levels, such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Although cholesterol serves as an essential building block of healthy cells, too much of this lipid can speed up plaque formation in a process known as atherosclerosis, and increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Prescriptions for statins — drugs used to decrease the body’s internal cholesterol production — have soared in recent years, reaching a $29 billion global market in 2012. While the drug is highly effective in reducing cholesterol, it does not come without side-effects, including muscle and liver damage, as well as digestive and memory problems. As a result, natural alternatives without side-effects are sought after.

Recognition for tocotrienol began to emerge in the early 1980s at the University of Wisconsin through the efforts of Asaf Qureshi and Charles Elson, who were the first to delineate the function of tocotrienol from tocopherol. The mechanism of tocotrienol’s hypolipidemic action involves post-transcriptional suppression of HMGR (3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl-CoA reductase — the enzyme/protein responsible for the body’s cholesterol production) via controlled degradation of the reductase protein. This protein degradation is only seen with delta- and gamma-tocotrienol. No side-effects associated with tocotrienol supplementation have been observed to date.

In the current study, researchers tested the effects of annatto tocotrienol doses ranging from 125–750mg per day on hypercholesterolemic individuals. Results showed that after only 4 weeks, the optimum daily dose of 250mg decreased total cholesterol by 15%, LDL cholesterol by 18% and triglycerides by 14%.

Furthermore, cytokines associated with cardiovascular disease and their gene expression, including TNF-alpha, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, and IL-8, were down regulated 39–64%. Selected microRNAs that are typically down regulated in hypercholesterolemic individuals were up-regulated by tocotrienol treatment, suggesting a beneficial effect on these biomarkers.

A lack of lipid-lowering effects with the smaller 125mg daily dose may have been remedied by extending the treatment period to 8 weeks, the researchers believe. Higher doses of 500mg and 750mg, however, did not decrease lipids compared with baseline. None of the 31 participants reported any adverse events throughout the course of the study, indicating the supplement’s safety across the range of dosages utilised.

Commenting on the research, Dr Barrie Tan, president of American River Nutrition Inc., said: ‘Dr Asaf Qureshi has pioneered tocotrienol research for nearly 35 years. His work continues to yield critical clinical studies, particularly in connection to delta- and gamma-tocotrienols.’