The discovery of vitamin E (α-tocopherol) began in 1922 as a vital component required in reproduction. Today, there are eight naturally occurring vitamin E isoforms, namely α-, β-, γ- and δ-tocopherol and α-, β-, γ- and δ-tocotrienol. Vitamin E is potent antioxidants, capable of neutralizing free radicals directly by donating hydrogen from its chromanol ring. α-Tocopherol is regarded the dominant form in vitamin E as the α-tocopherol transfer protein in the liver binds mainly α-tocopherol, thus preventing its degradation. That contributed to the oversight of tocotrienols and resulted in less than 3% of all vitamin E publications studying tocotrienols. Nevertheless, tocotrienols have been shown to possess superior antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties over α-tocopherol. In particular, inhibition of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase to lower cholesterol, attenuating inflammation via downregulation of transcription factor NF-κB activation, and potent radioprotectant against radiation damage are some properties unique to tocotrienols, not tocopherols. Aside from cancer, vitamin E has also been shown protective in bone, cardiovascular, eye, nephrological and neurological diseases. In light of the different pharmacological properties of tocopherols and tocotrienols, it becomes critical to specify which vitamin E isoform(s) are being studied in any future vitamin E publications. This review provides an update on vitamin E therapeutic potentials, protective effects and modes of action beyond cancer, with comparison of tocopherols against tocotrienols. With the concerted efforts in synthesizing novel vitamin E analogs and clinical pharmacology of vitamin E, it is likely that certain vitamin E isoform(s) will be therapeutic agents against human diseases besides cancer.
Keywords: Antioxidant; Cardiovascular; Cholesterol; Inflammation; Pharmacokinetics; Radioprotectant.
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