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The vitamin E family comprises four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta). The critical chemical structural difference between tocotrienols and tocopherols is that tocotrienols have unsaturated isoprenoid side chains with three carbon-carbon double bonds versus saturated side chains for tocopherols (see Figure).
Tocotrienols are compounds naturally occurring at higher levels in some vegetable oils, including palm oil, rice bran oil, wheat germ, barley, saw palmetto, annatto, and certain other types of seeds, nuts and grains, and the oils derived from them.
Chemically, different analogues of vitamin E all show some activity as a chemical antioxidant, but do not all have the same vitamin E equivalence. Tocotrienols demonstrate activity depending on the type of antioxidant performance being measured. All tocotrienols have some physical antioxidant activity due to an ability to donate a hydrogen atom (a proton plus electron) from the hydroxyl group on the chromanol ring, to free radical and reactive oxygen species. Historically studies of tocotrienols account for less than 1% of all research into vitamin E.
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