Population-based study of alpha- and gamma-tocopherol in plasma and adipose tissue as biomarkers of intake in Costa Rican adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Sep;74(3):356-63. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/74.3.356.


Background: gamma-Tocopherol is the most abundant form of vitamin E in the US diet, but alpha-tocopherol concentrations are the highest in plasma and tissues. Although plasma and adipose tissue concentrations of alpha-tocopherol have been used as biomarkers of intake, the relation between gamma-tocopherol intake and concentrations in plasma and adipose tissue is unknown.

Objective: Our goal was to investigate in a randomly selected population from Costa Rica whether plasma or adipose tissue concentrations of alpha- and gamma-tocopherol are suitable biomarkers of intake.

Design: A total of 361 men (x +/- SD age: 55 +/- 11 y) and 121 women (aged 59 +/- 10 y) completed a 135-item food-frequency questionnaire and provided a fasting blood sample and adipose tissue biopsy sample.

Results: Dietary gamma-tocopherol correlated with adipose tissue (r = 0.37, P < 0.001) and plasma (r = 0.42, P < 0.001) concentrations, regardless of supplement use. Dietary alpha-tocopherol correlated poorly with adipose tissue (r = 0.15, P < 0.01) and plasma (r = 0.16, P < 0.001) concentrations, and these correlations were even lower when users of vitamin supplements (n = 24) were excluded (adipose tissue: r = 0.10, P < 0.05; plasma: r = 0.09, P < 0.05). Compared with subjects who reported palm shortening (36%) as the major type of fat used for cooking, subjects using soybean oil (52%) had higher amounts of both alpha- and gamma-tocopherol in their diets. However, only gamma-tocopherol concentrations were higher in the plasma and adipose tissue of soybean oil users.

Conclusions: Plasma and adipose tissue concentrations of gamma-tocopherol are equally good biomarkers of intake. The weak associations between alpha-tocopherol intake and plasma or adipose tissue concentrations suggest that these biomarkers are influenced more by factors other than alpha-tocopherol intake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biopsy
  • Costa Rica
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fasting
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin E / blood*
  • Vitamin E / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Dietary Fats
  • Vitamin E