Tocopherols and Tocotrienols-Bioactive Dietary Compounds; What Is Certain, What Is Doubt?

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jun 9;22(12):6222. doi: 10.3390/ijms22126222.


Tocopherols and tocotrienols are natural compounds of plant origin, available in the nature. They are supplied in various amounts in a diet, mainly from vegetable oils, some oilseeds, and nuts. The main forms in the diet are α- and γ-tocopherol, due to the highest content in food products. Nevertheless, α-tocopherol is the main form of vitamin E with the highest tissue concentration. The α- forms of both tocopherols and tocotrienols are considered as the most metabolically active. Currently, research results indicate also a greater antioxidant potential of tocotrienols than tocopherols. Moreover, the biological role of vitamin E metabolites have received increasing interest. The aim of this review is to update the knowledge of tocopherol and tocotrienol bioactivity, with a particular focus on their bioavailability, distribution, and metabolism determinants in humans. Almost one hundred years after the start of research on α-tocopherol, its biological properties are still under investigation. For several decades, researchers' interest in the biological importance of other forms of vitamin E has also been growing. Some of the functions, for instance the antioxidant functions of α- and γ-tocopherols, have been confirmed in humans, while others, such as the relationship with metabolic disorders, are still under investigation. Some studies, which analyzed the biological role and mechanisms of tocopherols and tocotrienols over the past few years described new and even unexpected cellular and molecular properties that will be the subject of future research.

Keywords: bioaccessibility; bioactivity; bioavailability; tocopherols; tocotrienols; vitamin E metabolites; α-tocopherol.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants* / chemistry
  • Antioxidants* / metabolism
  • Diet*
  • Humans
  • Tocotrienols* / chemistry
  • Tocotrienols* / metabolism
  • alpha-Tocopherol* / chemistry
  • alpha-Tocopherol* / metabolism
  • gamma-Tocopherol* / chemistry
  • gamma-Tocopherol* / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Tocotrienols
  • gamma-Tocopherol
  • alpha-Tocopherol