Vitamin E is a lipid soluble vitamin comprising of eight natural isoforms, namely, α, β, δ, γ isoforms of tocopherol and α, β, δ, γ isoforms of tocotrienol. Many studies have been performed to elucidate its role in cancer. Until last decade, major focus was on alpha tocopherol and its anticancer effects. However, major clinical trials using alpha-tocopherol like SELECT trial and ATBC trial did not yield meaningful results. Hence there was a shift of focus to gamma-tocopherol, delta-tocopherol and tocotrienol. Unlike alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol and delta-tocopherol can scavenge reactive nitrogen species in addition to reactive oxygen species. Antiangiogenic effect, inhibition of HMG CoA reductase enzyme and inhibition of NF-κB pathway make the anti-cancer effects of tocotrienols unique compared to other vitamin E isoforms. Preclinical research on non-alpha tocopherol isoforms of vitamin E showed promising data on their anticancer effects. In this review, we deal with the current understanding on the potential mechanisms involved in the anticancer effects of vitamin E and the controversies in this field over last three decades. We also highlight the need to conduct further research on the anticancer effects of non-alpha-tocopherol isoforms in larger population and clinical setting.
Keywords: Vitamin E and cancer; anticancer mechanisms; tocopherol; tocopherol and cancer; tocotrienol.