[0:02:16] Podcast Sponsors
[0:05:29] About the Podcast and Guest
[0:08:48] Beginnings of Dr. Tan
[0:13:33] Working as A Researcher for The Prince of Thailand
[0:17:53] About Vitamin E
[0:27:08] How to undo the damage from an alpha-tocopherol heavy supplement
[0:28:18] Podcast Sponsors
[0:30:57] Alpha-Tocopherols vs. Tocotrienols
[0:43:24] Discovery of Annatto in South Africa
[0:52:35] How the annatto plant is used to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
[1:10:16] Studies on Cancer
[1:15:01] Closing the Podcast
[1:17:40] End of Podcast
Barrie: I immediately confided with my friend who was a famous professor, the father of modern-day tocotrienol research. Hey, I found this thing, man. And you know what the first thing he said to me? He said, “Barrie, if tocotrienol would ever mitigate human disease and misery, this tocotrienol from annatto better do, because if it doesn't, all our experimentation, our cost for tocotrienol is lost.
Ben: I have a master's degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I've spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world's toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world's top experts in performance, fat loss, recovery, hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.
Hey, so in this podcast episode, I interview a Malaysian researcher named Dr. Barrie Tan. I got to warn you, it probably takes us about like 10 to 15 minutes to get warmed up just based on the fact that he's a super-duper smart researcher and I'm an exercise physiology Luddite trying to keep up with him. I kind of have to rein him back a few times, and eventually, got him steered in the direction that I think you're really going to enjoy. So, today's show is very, very heady. Put on your thinking cap. We're talking about one single molecule, vitamin E, but we'd take a pretty deep dive into it. The forms of vitamin E that we talked about I'll all include in the shownotes over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan, like his last name, BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan. But anyways, get through the first 10 to 15 minutes. And if you can make it past that, you can make it past anything, this smoke coming out your ears.
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Alright. Let's go talk to Dr. Tan.
So, I was at the recent A4M conference in Vegas, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine where there are all sorts of interesting cats running around. One of the people that I ran into told me that I really needed to get this guy named Dr. Barrie Tan on the show. And Barrie is a scientist with a PhD in chemistry and biochemistry, who has a particular fondness for vitamin E, which kind of sounds like a boring, non-sexy vitamin that we all know about is just a basic fat-soluble vitamin that should be included in our diet. But he actually is credited with discovering a molecule called tocotrienol from three major natural sources; palm which is from his native Malaysia, which is where Barrie hails from, and then also rice which he found at the invitation of the prince of Thailand, and something called annatto, which he found in Ecuador.
He has a very interesting story in terms of how he discovered the vitamin E in these particular compounds, and in the research that spanned the past 20 years on some very interesting uses of vitamin E, and also a lot of myths about vitamin E in kind of the wrong way to use vitamin E, which is actually what most people are currently doing. He studied cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, osteopenia, osteoporosis, inflammation, and found ways to work vitamin E into many of these equations to better results and to enhance health.
The guy who I actually met at A4M, whose name is Jonathan Lizotte, he's the founder of a company called Designs for Health. He told me, word-for-word, he said if he were stranded on a desert island, the one single supplement that he would take with him is tocotrienols, specifically derived from annatto. I raised an eyebrow and he told me that for me to know more, I just really had to get on a long conversation with Barrie. Jonathan sent me two giant textbooks that brought me back to my days in the university, these big chemistry and biochemistry textbooks on vitamin E and annatto. I went through them and mind-blown. There's so much about vitamin E I didn't know that I discovered in those books. Don't worry, you don't have to go read these giant textbooks. We're going to lay it all out for you on this show.
But the bottom line is that a couple different forms of vitamin E that Barrie is going to tell us about today are certainly something that you need to be aware of and look into. And this goes beyond just health. They've found some very interesting things in terms of boosts in testosterone and progesterone, pain alleviation, muscle building, and a lot of other parameters.
So, Barrie, welcome to the show, man.
Barrie: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Nice of your introduction.
Ben: Yeah. And man, there's a lot of places that we could jump in to start here, but I think it's very interesting, the story of your discovery of annatto and your overall career in vitamin E. We have plenty of time. So, can you walk me through how you discovered annatto and got interested in vitamin E in the first place? And also, feel free to, as you introduce that, clear up terms for us because I think a lot of people might not know the difference between tocotrienol and tocopherol, and some of these other words that are used to define different forms of vitamin E.
Barrie: Thank you, Ben. It all started with my first career as an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts right here in Amherst, which I'm still living in the Pioneer Valley area on the western side of Massachusetts. I went back to my original home to see how they would extract palm oil. The palm oil was very reddish color. It's not the vitamin E, but that's the color. The color leads me to vitamin E. Palm oil is very orangey color like carrot color. And then they said, “Oh, when you process the palm oil, the color is bleached out so that the palm oil looked like corn oil color.”
Most Americans know palm oil as saturated fat and not going that direction necessarily, although days I come back because of the coconut oil thing on the saturated fat, although they see carbon length is different. But on the color, it's unique of palm oil on the color. So, he asked me, “Why don't you ask the Malaysian government for grant to study these?” I did. So, when I got the grant, this is how I got into the vitamin E. First, I have to remove all the fats and oil, which vegetable oils are. When I did that, then I remove all the colors, which is the carotene color. And then that is what I get the grant for to study the color.
Then there's something about 0.1 or half a percent almost are nothing. It somehow didn't go away. It's not the fat and it's not the color. I was curious, what is this? So, when I tried to think of it, I noticed that it has very high antioxidant property. So, I've reported back to the Malaysian government at all. This is just vitamin E. Then I said, “Well, not just vitamin E.” Okay. So, I took a look and I noticed that there was vitamin E referring to alpha-tocopherol, the most commonly known one. However, there are three other [00:11:37] ______. Then I said, “No. There's something else here. I don't know what it is.” But I did account for 25% of it as normal vitamin E. It's the remaining 75% that keeps bugging me.
At the time, this was a nuisance because I wanted to go back to study the carotene, the color itself like, not this, but I had to deal with this because I didn't know what it was. And when I finally figured it out, it was probably 1986 and it was tocotrienol. I will explain the difference in a short moment. And so that started my career on the tocotrienol. They're very similar to tocopherol but different enough that they can be separated, identified, and chemically not same as tocopherol. That was it. Then I stated that the university for about another 10 years or so, we did animal studies on cancer work, on lymphoma. And eventually, I even got a grant to study lung cancer, those different shades of lung cancer. But by that time, I stopped. I'm still regretting that I did that. I stopped because if this tocotrienol were to be useful, then you got to find a way to get it out so that people can use it for their benefit. Otherwise, they had to eat copious amount of palm oil that's not sustainable or no possible.
That was how I first started. And then from there, I stopped the project and then I went on to do something else, and then fate has it, I came across the Prince of Thailand, almost magical moment. He asked me that, “Would you do anything that is not blood-related? Chlorophyll-related is fine.” Very broad. Then I said, “Sure. It's in Thailand, so I can think of rice, I can think of teak.
Ben: You mean you met this Prince of Thailand and he hired you to research for him?
Barrie: Yeah. It was the magical four years. It was 1993 for something then. I think at the time, the king went to have it with an agriculture degree. And he's very, the king himself, very interested, he recently passed away, interested in agriculture and wanted Thailand to go that direction. And because the Buddhist don't like things that are hemoglobin-related, it's fine. I like to focus on plants, anyways, because many phytonutrients are from plant.
Ben: Well, I'm going to interrupt you real quick. What do you mean the Buddhists don't like anything mitochondrial-related?
Barrie: When you come to figure out something that you extract, blood-related things are not what they are gung-ho about. Plant-related things, they are gung-ho about. As a nation, they are not all vegetarian, but many Buddhist monks–
Ben: Okay. So, he wanted something that was plant-derived, not animal-derived, is what you mean?
Ben: Okay. Got it.
Barrie: That was correct. And when I mentioned, “What about teak and what about rice?” He said, “Oh, those sound good.” Then I said, “Send me anything that is refused, that are byproduct and let me work with it to see what I had.” Remember, it was a shot in the dark because it was a blank check. It was very broad. I didn't know how to focus. But he is the prince. He had a deep pocket. Then I said, “Well, still, I need to have a project. I don't want to waste your money.” And he did. I found phytonutrients in teak leaves interesting but not as attention-grabbing as what I found from the rice brand and from the brand oil. Would you believe it? And in the oil, it was tocotrienol. I really didn't expect that, Ben. But when I did and I reported back to him, I said, “Look, you have vitamin E tocotrienol some years earlier I found from palm. What would you want me to do with it?” Like that.
And then we did some tests and it worked. We did on carotid arteriosclerosis and it worked, which were outer sound, how that would not narrow the artery and would prevent stroke. It was 1997, the Asian Tiger fell economically and he wants to back off from doing this kind of study. Life had those paths. I said, “You know, it is your call. I'm trying to be the best scientist I could for you.” And in the project, he said, “Can you help me to navigate the project?” The project was given to Eastman Kodak, and Eastman Kodak saw rice tocotrienol for a while. And then after that, it was 1998. By this time, I had been on tocotrienol and tocopherol probably for nearly 20 years. So, I needed a break, Ben.
It was real life. My wife and I, we just wanted a break to do something else. And in the break, it was [00:16:56] ______, and she was ophthalmologist at the time at Harvard Medical School and she said, it's common news now, she said that on the back of the retina, if you want to prevent a macular degeneration, then there's these two; carotenoid lutein and zeaxanthin. Everybody knows that now, but nothing is 1994. Then I said, “Wait a minute. My first love is the color of life carotenoid. I like this.” And then somebody told me that if you go to South America, it really is like that, Ben. If you go to South America, you have this giant marigold plant, like the size of a Chinese bow, the big bow like that. If you do it, then you're going to find this marigold. And from the petal, you can extract this lutein and zeaxanthin. We said, “Great. I'm going to go.” So, I took a flight there and I found this. Someday I'm going to show you the picture of the giant marigold like that.
Ben: Okay. So, you've left Asia and now you're in South America. I want to back up just a second before you get on to what you discovered in South America because I think we should clear the air right now just so people aren't too confused about vitamin E, because from what I understand, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, vitamin E is actually made up of eight different compounds; four of them are these compounds called tocopherols and four of them are compounds called tocotrienol. Those all have different chemical structures. What you find these days most often are if you buy vitamin E or you buy a multivitamin or you buy a conventional supplement, they're very rich in tocopherols, especially alpha-tocopherol. But those are different than these tocotrienols that you were on the brink of being able to find. Am I on the right track here?
Barrie: You are on the right track. Thank you for backtracking in it. And some explanation here would be good because if the consumer or myself go read in the news, in the last 10 to 15 years, everything of vitamin E is the blah at best. And at worse, it may do some harm. That is invariably referring to alpha-tocopherol and most–
Ben: Okay. Sorry to interrupt. Would that include–because I'm sure you're aware of this and we have a very healthy fit listener base, I'm sure you're aware of the studies on vitamin E and vitamin C in terms of them in pairing the favorable adaptations to exercise. Do you know if those were the tocopherols or the tocotrienols used in a study like that?
Barrie: Those were entirely tocopherols like that, and almost exclusively alpha-tocopherol. If I can even back up one step just for the audience to know like that, the advent of vitamin E discovery is 1922 by two medical doctors at UC Berkeley, and they came up with something they extracted from spinach, interestingly enough because there's barely any oil in spinach. And somehow, when the extract is gooey, oily material is needed to bring the feeders to full term. But when they found that, they found a component called X and they just went to the alphabetical order. And the next discovery of the vitamin was E, and X becomes E, and that compound was alpha-tocopherol. So, alpha-tocopherol became a vitamin because he was able to bring a fetus to full-term. That's it. That was exact.
Now, in the years that follow, in the assignation, we got into soybean extraction. And when we did that, there's a lot of scum and site material around. And then when they did that, they're able to extract the vitamin E from the distillate, they call it. And when they did, watch how the progression is. Most of the soybean oil distillate. They contained gamma and delta tocopherol. I may submit that that's even better. But at the time, the currency, I'm using this figuratively, the currency of vitamin E is entirely alpha-tocopherol.
Therefore, the industry converts all of the soybean tocopherol, which is mostly delta and gamma. They convert it entirely to alpha-tocopherol. Therefore, even if you take natural alpha-tocopherol, it's semi-synthetic. Now, this should come to you as a shock. I knew this for a long time. There are very few alpha-tocopherols that are truly natural, to begin with. And even if it were to be, it is still questionable in what it can do. But nevertheless, that came about because of the soy industry in the 1950. So, everybody had a bang in on alpha-tocopherol. And then come to 1980s and a lot of large clinical trials on this. Almost all of them failed and fought at best. And at worst, it may cause things and you can read in the news breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer like this.
Ben: That would all be from the alpha-tocopherol and the largely tocopherol-based forms of vitamin E.
Barrie: That is. Not largely, entirely. The tocotrienol thing comes like this. In the 1960, some scientists, it wasn't me, some scientists in USDA and in University of Bristol, they were extracting things from a rubber plant. Rubber plant is also very polyunsaturated like that but not fat, but polyunsaturated material. So, the plant makes vitamin E to protect itself from oxidation. Notice how the plant does it. It's never alpha-tocopherol. They always mix tocopherol delta and gamma tocopherol, or in a rarer case, tocotrienol. Because rubber is so oxidatively challenged, they only make tocotrienol.
Ben: So, what we're getting from like a supplement with vitamin E in it isn't even what we're finding in nature and plants. We're basically consuming one single or just a few different molecules of tocopherol without the full spectrum of tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Barrie: That is correct. And the reason, Ben, they're doing that is because this is during a time where the currency of vitamin E is an international unit, IU. Only this year, would you believe it, after almost 100 years, the FDA finally said, “At the beginning of 2019, no vitamin E should be ascribed IU. It'd simply be just milligram.” That's not the full answer but there's better than IU. So, why is the IU currency favors alpha-tocopherol? Okay. If you have 10 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol, that's approximating to 10 IU. If you have 10 milligrams of gamma-tocopherol, it's one IU. If you have 10 milligrams of tocotrienol, zero IU.
You can see the industry is pushing because of this IU currency. And also, why is that ridiculous? It's ridiculous because the international units for vitamin E were entirely for the reason to bring feeders to full term. The whole thing has lost its meaning long time ago. If it is, then no men should be taking because we don't have [00:24:50] ______. The whole thing is a joke. But mostly, the IU had been put there because we're pushing the idea that the more the IU is, the more antioxidant protection you get. See, there's already lost in translation. But finally, the FDA says no, and that's the reason why the industry converts all the vitamin E into alpha-tocopherol because they can use lesser amount and make more gain in selling the product but pushing for alpha-tocopherol.
However, when they did the large trial funded by the NIH, they failed. Had they succeed, okay, there's something to be said, but they failed. The thing that bugs me was in some of them, people have increased cancer and other problems, and other problem–while I'm at it, I’m going to say this because we may not revisit this again, I really have a problem with alpha-tocopherol. I'm telling you. And Ben, and your listeners out there, I will gladly send you all the published papers. I spent my whole life as a scientist. I'm really honest about the alpha-tocopherol oxidizes LDL in large doses. Large doses mean 400 IU. And mostly, we think our alpha-tocopherol is protecting the LDL, but this has been published by the American Heart Associat6ion.
Furthermore, large alpha-tocopherol increase cholesterol synthesis, increase high blood pressure in adolescence, and possibly increase mortality and cancers, especially breast, prostate, and lung. And also, can thin people's bone osteoporosis as we go older and blocks and lowers the chemo effectiveness of cancer who are taking chemo drug. If you have this long list and they are growing, long list, then there's a problem with alpha-tocopherol. But before–
Ben: No. If I could interject real quick, and maybe this is a premature question, but already if people are starting to look at the label of their multi as they're listening to this, they're probably going to see alpha-tocopherol or a form of it as the main ingredient in that multivitamin. Can you undo some of the damage by when you take a multivitamin that has that alpha-tocopherol in it taking a tocotrienol simultaneously?
Barrie: Yes, you could, but the first thing to undo alpha-tocopherol is to stop taking alpha-tocopherol supplement. I don't have problem with people who take nuts, vegetable, and meat, and/or vegetable oil, and then to have the daily 100% RDA of vitamin E, which is referring to alpha-tocopherol, about 15 milligrams. That's fine. That's not going to do–and there would be normal oxidative protection.
Ben: Fifteen milligram of supplementation in addition to what you're already getting from food. Are you saying get those 15 milligrams from food?
Barrie: I get those 15 milligrams from food. No supplementation of alpha-tocopherol is necessary. Just some food will be fine. And even a bowl of cereal that you take every day, you see, it is already going to contain 20%, 30% RDA. They really are sufficient with very few exceptions.
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Barrie: I wanted to answer your earlier question on the difference between tocopherol and tocotrienol structurally, chemically as a chemist. The word, “tri-e-nol” just means three, in is double bond, and like that. So, a tocopherol, it looked like a sperm. It has a head and the head has an OH group and end in alcohol, and then have a tail. A tocopherol tail is entirely saturated. A tocotrienol tail has three double bonds, so it is not saturated. So, if you look at it and you want to describe it and put your hands around, the head of a tocopherol is bigger. The head of a tocotrienol is smaller.
And furthermore, the tail, because the double bond in the tocotrienol, the tail tends to be shorter. Okay. That's structurally, otherwise, they both look similar, the anti-oxidant. Now, if you ask me functionally how this is, this one will be of interest. It took me a while to figure out a way to encapsulate this to explain to people. So, if you allow me, I'll do this talking about cells, cell wall, and the human body. Each person has about 38 trillion cells in a human body. I know there's a huge number. These 38 trillion cells per person are proximate to 5,000 times the population of the world, which is staggering.
So, 5,000 times the population of the world is the amount of cells in every person. And then all cells must have cell walls. Otherwise, the constituent is not going to be kept. This is harkened back to why Jonathan Lazar keeps saying that this is a desert island. It is super basic and people forgot about this. Okay. About 30 years ago, there was a university Austrian professor. He went to study. He really wanted to go to the bottom of it. If the cell wall is phospholipid bio membrane, he wanted to know what exactly are the antioxidants in the cell wall that–and I'm really happy he did that because today, everybody mouths the word antioxidant. It's become trite.
But in my judgment, the antioxidant that we should mostly care about is lipid antioxidant. And why? Because lipids are the lowest lying fruit for our body to be oxidized. Now, you have heard and probably know that you have people in your radio show talk about astaxanthin, super powerful antioxidant. CoQ10, lutein, and a number other things, but ask further. If you ask them about astaxanthin, astaxanthin is a powerful singlet antioxidant. So, what does that mean? That means that they are very powerful antioxidant in an environment that is oxygen-deficient, which means that is right in the nucleus.
But if by the time my nucleus is challenged to be oxidized, I am in deep trouble. So, I want mostly my phospholipid to surround my cell wall. They're doing the propagating property so that the right nutrient goes in and toxin would not go in like that. Usually, they're the fat, and the fat lines up all the phospholipid. That's it. So, when this university Austrian professor came back, he said that among the antioxidant, greater than 90% of all the antioxidant in the phospholipid in a cell or in lipoproteins, vitamin E molecule.
Now, that should grip everybody's attention. It just is. It's nothing else. And the remaining 10% or less, watch this, the hydrocarbon carotenoid. That means they're not oxygenated hydrocarbon carotenoid. And what are the two most famous hydrocarbon carotenoids? Simply hydrocarbon. The same hydrogen and carbon you put the gas in your tank. That's it. I know it is shocking for the listener, and they are ancient molecules. They are beta-carotene and lycopene. Beta-carotene and lycopene contain nothing else but hydrogen and carbon. That's why chicken fat looked yellowish, orangey color because of this. That's what you can see, but that's less than 10%. More than 90% is vitamin E molecule.
So, just let that sit for a while on the entire 38 trillion cells. Now, I'm taking a break. I'll move to another concept right. In 1995, Professor Lester Packer, he's retired now from UC Berkeley, he knew that tocotrienol and tocopherol are very similar, and he knew that somehow, the tocotrienol is better. But he got to have a rationale to do this. So, this is what he did. He used electron- resonance spectroscopy. They're very difficult to study. Basically, he put in the vitamin E.
Now, he already knows that vitamin E is among the best molecule to be on the phospholipid. He put alpha-tocopherol because that was the best known and that was also where vitamin E was discovered in the same university just 50 years earlier. And this electron spectroscopy can figure out how fast the tocopherol spins around the cell. Think of a cell like a bean, like a lima bean that spins around. And then he's taken the tocotrienol. The tocotrienol from the spin is spinning 50 times faster. So, he made the conclusion that both tocopherol and tocotrienol capture free radical to protect the lipid from oxidation. A good thing too because the cell needs a gated community to protect the content inside.
But a tocotrienol spins 50 times faster. It is for this reason alone that tocotrienol is able to protect the fact 50 times faster. So, a simplistic thing that I described to people would be tocopherol would be like a local policeman, they do not cause boundary. Then the tocotrienol would be like a state trooper. It traversed the entire state to capture the bad guys. That's it. It is not that I have no other rationale how that is, except structurally because the tail of a tocotrienol is shorter, it's not anchored deeply. Therefore, it is more mobile and spinning. But a tocopherol anchors deeply, so it anchors in. So, it moves around still but less. Hopefully, I gave you the basic understanding of this. Now, if we advance this to all the animal studies that we had, us and other people publishing in the last 30 years, we systematically saw that tocotrienol, if it is a cancer study, it recruits to the cancer cell, which means on the cell wall of the cancer 10 times more than a tocopherol, because this is now whole organs study. So, it's not same as self-study 10-time.
And this has been shown by Professor [00:38:39] ______ in University of Southern Florida. He went after pancreatic cancer, the deadliest of all cancer. And when he was excising the tumors from the patient, he found that the delta tocotrienol was deposited into the pancreatic tissues 10 times more than in the blood and in other tissues. And other scientists further, further nail it down to the tocotrienols in the tumor of the disease animal 10 times or even higher than other tissues with alpha-tocopherol. Meanwhile, the people who are doing vitamin E research who hung their hat on alpha-tocopherol. Keep insisting that. You see in the blood, you only find alpha-tocopherol. You cannot find tocotrienol. So, their conclusion is that because alpha-tocopherol is in the blood, tocotrienol is not, so all costs for tocotrienol is wasted. Then tocopherol A.
You know how my answer did that? I'd like to explain. And your audience deserves to know this, “There is a protein called ALPHAtucophery protein. It simply means that it's protein that chaperones a particular molecule to the site of action like retinol-bound protein. It brings it to the retina but I mean it has a protein. Vitamin D has a protein. It brings the Vitamin D to the bone of the cell, like that. Otherwise, it's naive to say that if you take something, it automatically goes to the site of action, which is for a long time people thought that of calcium. If we take calcium, it automatically goes to the bone. Well, now, we found that if you take a lot of calcium, it may litter on the artery and then have plaque forming because one-third of plaque is calcium, but if you have vitamin D with it then the vitamin D, which is a hormone, will chaperone the calcium into the bone.
For vitamin E, all the molecules, only alpha-tocopherol has a transport protein. The other tocopherols do not. So, it goes in. This, I believe, is the reason why supplementing alpha-tocopherol is bad news because the alpha-tocopherol transport protein ensures the conservation of alpha-tocopherol. So, if we take a copious amount of alpha-tocopherol, it has no way to go except to conserve it, which, I believe, is the reason why, and this Professor [00:41:19] ______ had published in American Heart Journals Association that when you take alpha-tocopherol, you supplement it, it went and landed it on the LDL. Ordinarily, that's a good thing for antioxidant protection, but it landed so much and it had become a pro-oxidant and therefore that's a no-no because oxidized LDL is atherogenic. I know I got carried away.
Ben: No, that makes sense. I think the big picture here that you're getting after, and my big takeaway from those text books I read, that Jonathan from Designs for Health sent to me, was that pretty much the scope of vitamin E's primary biological activity can be understood in the light of protecting fatty acids and the membrane qualities like the fluidity and the separation, and kind of the antioxidant activity upon those lipids, and considering that lipid oxidation is probably the number one issue when it comes to chronic disease that the use of a proper form of vitamin E that does not have that pro-oxidant fact that you just alluded to could, in fact, make it especially if you're consuming fats or fatty acids or fish oil or DHA or anything else, one of the most important things to have in your body. Furthermore, it's difficult to actually get a high amount of these tocotrienols from food-based sources and most supplements have just alpha-tocopherol in them so we're kind of stuck with this issue of how do we get adequate antioxidant activity for our lipids, for our cell membranes, for our nervous system? Furthermore, how do we tap into, potentially, some of these effects on, for example, tumor expression, prostaglandin expression, et cetera. So, I think this kind of brings us full circle to you going down to South America and starting to poke around down there.
Barrie: Yes. Back to that story, I did find my giant marigold. Remember I went there to look for lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration? I owe my discovery of tocotrienol to plant from my interest in carotenoids. In the palm oil, it was a beta carotene and then now, I went to South America to look for lutein and zeaxanthin and other colors of life, and then I found it 30 feet away from me, this annatto. First, I saw the annatto. It looked like the Asian… it looked on the outside like the Asian food rambutan. You can buy them in Whole Food like that. It's the outside but as soon as you crack open the part, it does not have a flesh. It just has a stock, about 20 to 30 seeds and they're intensely red color. The British have nicknamed this the lipstick plant, which probably in the original convention, why women's lipsticks were red color like that. The South American called this achuete, A-C-H-U-E-T-E and you can buy from many South American stores, Hispanic stores. If you say achuete, they use it for coloring many foods.
So, when I saw the fruit, I was enamored by it. I touched it on my hand and it intensely stained my hand maroon color. Instantly, I know it was yet another carotenoid. See? Remember, I did not go down there to look for this plant in the Amazonia but it stained my hand and I said, “Wow!” It doesn't have a miso cup, which is the fleshy part of a fruit, all kinds of fruit. This fleshy part would be air in in this annatto plant. So, the thought came to me that “Wow!” And then this carotene is not bound to anything. That means that it must be protected by an antioxidant. Why did I say bound? I'll give you a little interesting bit. If you cook tomato sauce, lycopene, and if you cook carrot, the lycopene and beta carotene don't decompose readily. Why? Because they were inside the cytoplasm of the plant. You cook it a long time then you'll come up.
Another one, I live in New England. Many of you come here to eat lobster. When you eat lobster, it's yucky green. Almost as soon as it hits hot water, it turns brilliantly orange color. Why? Because the astaxanthin in lobster deproteinate and then the color comes out. In other words, carotene in nature is protected by something because they're unstable. The fall foliage, my goodness, you come to New England, two weeks of splendor because the chlorophyll comes off, hormonally, they disappear and the color comes up and two weeks later, everything turns brown. You see? Carotenes are inherently unstable.
However, when I saw this annatto, hey, it is stable. The color sticks around for a long time so intuitively, I thought there must be a powerful antioxidant that protects it. I least expected it to be a tocotrienol. I fully expected it to be one of nature… literally thousands and thousands of polyphenols. They are powerful antioxidants but shocking to me when we analyzed for it, it contained–first, it was shocking to me that its' not polyphenol. More shocking to me that it contained tocotrienol and most shocking to me that it contained no tocopherol and just tocotrienol. And then the ultimate shock would be it contained almost entirely delta tocotrienol.
Why do I gravitate in this? By the time I discovered this, it's already published much in the literature, that delta-tocotrienol is the most potent of all the vitamin Es in cancer, all chronic conditions. So, far, we have tested chronic conditions on lipid metabolic syndrome, NAFLD fatty liver, I hope you're going to ask me questions in NAFLD because that is a tsunami coming and then we also check on chronic condition, osteopenia, on postmenopausal women, and we also check on in inflammation and also oxidative stress. So, we checked all of them and systematically delta tocotrienol showed up the best.
Now, I found this plant, I found this plant. If you run a chart, an HPLC on it, usually, you expect all the eight peaks, like the way you say, four tocopherol trienol. When I ran it, every time its tocopherol side is nada. Nothing shows up. And then the tocotrienol, about 10% will be gamma tocotrienols of the peak and 90% of the peak will be delta tocotrienol. I immediately confided with my friend, this was in 1999, who was a famous professor, the father of modern-day tocotrienol research. I asked Dr. Qureshi. I said, “Hey, I found his thing.” And you know what the first thing he said to me was? He said, “Barry, if tocotrienol would ever mitigate human disease and misery, this tocotrienol from annatto better do because if it doesn't, all our experimentation, our cause for tocotrienol is lost.”
That was 20 years ago, and I've committed the last 20 years to do many clinical trials from lipids metabolic syndrome, osteopenia, NAFLD and of course, most recently, on cancer. I will be absolutely delighted to share with you the findings of any of all of this.
Ben: Okay. So, when you were in South America, you found this plant. Now is the plant actually called the annatto plant?
Barrie: Yes, it is. Two Ns and two Ts, A-N-N-A-T-T-O and if your listeners are from say New York City, I'll tell you how to look for them. You go to Bronx Botanical Garden. It's inside. Usually, they grow in tropics but this is inside the hothouse. If you're in the southern part, like in Florida or in Southern California, if you visit and ask the botanist where you'll find this plant, you should be able to see them. If you're in Hawaii, they seem to grow all over. In Filipinos use it in their food cooking and if you were to go to any part of South America, you just say achuete or you Google, you'll find it is not a weird, very hard to find. It is used systemically for a long time mostly as food colors.
Ben: Does that plant have the full spectrum of all the tocopherols and the tocotrienols or is it just concentrated in these tocotrienols? When you extract the vitamin E from that plant, is it naturally just high in tocotrienols or do you need to remove the alpha tocopherols after you extract the tocotrienols?
Barrie: Thank you for the question. No, the plant comes naturally with just these two tocotrienol, completely tocopherol-free and I'll argue that the reason this plant does it this way is because it doesn't have any flesh so that when the part opens and it kind of like is a little bit phototrophic, it follows the sun, not so dramatically as the French sunflower, like that, but when it follows the sun, then the carotenoid will be oxidized faster. So, they have to produce the most potent antioxidant to protect the color from degradation. It is natural and when we extract them, we're doing this right in the United States of America. I'm really proud. It took me a long time to do this, Ben. If you have visitors coming, I'll be glad to show them our facility. We never use chemical and we never use solvent and we never remove any other vitamin E. The plant simply makes it like this. I just feel honored to have to stumble onto this. My goal is that this should be broadly used for people from anti-oxidative protection all the way to chronic improvement in health particularly as we age.
Ben: Okay, got it. In terms of this annatto plant, you've figured out that it contains these tocotrienols and they can even be used in supplemental form and by the way, if you're listening in, I'm keeping track of all this, including the books I read. Just go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan. That's Barry's last name. BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan and I'll link to all the research and everything that we're talking about right now, but one thing in particular, because I do want to make sure we have time to discuss a few of the other interesting things you found in this plant, you talked about Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, which is of course probably one of the fastest growing issues right now even concerningly amongst our youth, what's the effect? You talked a little bit about the effect of this on Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease but can you expand on that?
Barrie: Yes. Thank you. Thank you for asking that. Right now, something is messed up in our society. When I say this, I don't say it is tritely. 20% of our youth obese and 40% of our adults are obese. Something is messed up. Only 10, 15 years ago, we're talking about overweight. The word overweight pushed aside and obesity, this is just off the charts. If you go to NIH, they say that three of five risk marker elevated triglyceride, reduced HDL and increased waist circumference. There are two more, blood pressure and glucose, but the top three, the triglyceride shoots up and then the HDL dropped and the waist circumference grew.
And then of this, in one sense I think of metabolic syndrome which is pre-diabetes that fatty liver is a new name for metabolic syndrome. That's even putting it kindly. It's worse than that but it's good enough for now, but for people who have fatty liver, they almost always have high triglyceride and they're almost always obese so it got that one. And so, when a gastroenterologist which means people who study liver-type disease, medical doctors, they say that about 80 to 100 million Americans have fatty liver disease. And it's a silent disease. You don't really feel it. Maybe some liver enzymes elevate a bit. I don't know if your audience is getting this. This needs a little bit of sinking in, 80 to 100 million Americans, not 8 to 10 million.
I just got stalled by this when I heard the numbers and the liver, which it affects, is the single largest solid organ in our body. Now, it performs greater than 500 tasks and functions so it's hard to put you head around but when I got into this, I thought, “Wow! The liver is very intolerant to fat,” and the liver is very muscular and is very dark color. It does not contain more than 5% fat. It's very intolerant so when you get more than 5% fat, it's simple fatty liver and then it becomes fatty liver and if it's uncontrolled then you'll be non-alcohol set to hepatitis. The non-alcohol phrase in front of the fatty liver is because 20, 30 years ago, this kind of condition in the liver is symptomatic of people who are alcoholic but today, this has so surpassed its dietary thing from people who have alcohol. Now I'm leading to it.
On the study thing, this is what we did. We gave people 600 milligrams. They take 300 milligrams twice a day and you take this with a meal and Designs for Health Jonathan is going after this. He's the only company currently to have 300 milligrams to address this and people with cancer under 300. They take twice a day on this, like that. So, they have 70 over patients and then they're double-blind, placebo-controlled, so the best you can imagine study like that to be done. They did it at the beginning, three months after and six months after. Okay. Now then I fraction it further. I do it in this manner. How did the patients themselves figure it out? So, the patients themselves are stakeholders. At three months, they lost weight, 10 pounds. At six months, they lost weight, 17 pounds. Now, I'm not pushing tocotrienol as weight loss but for people who are obese, this is very important to have weight loss. They figured it out themselves.
The BMI, the BMI lost two points. That is really big, if you measure your BMI, it lost two points and the waist circumference a dropped about three centimeters so that's exceedingly a good sign. So, that would be the stakeholder, the patients themselves, the stakeholders as the health professionals because they're taking care of the patient, they will take blood work. The two or three blood works that they always measure that measure the stress to deliver are ALT and AST. If you look at all the NAFLD patients, they always want to control this. If they keep going up, it's not good. The liver is going in the opposite direction. So, when they gave them tocotrienol at three months, they dropped about 16% and then at six months, they dropped further to about 20%, a fantastically good direction
I'm just wildly happy with the result. I had nothing to do with it. I'm just putting the data together when it's published. And then they also measure a marker GGT, a glutaral transaminase enzyme, another marker for cardiac problem, liver problem, and other problems. That also dropped about eight to 10%. The third one, which is a stakeholder of the health professionals also, this is a slightly different direction. They had to go with the inflammation and oxidation. So, this one, also from the blood test again. You'll find this out really easy, the C-reactive protein, which is clearly a measurement of inflammation.
By the way, not as many people know this, the C-reactive protein is a protein made in the liver. It just shows up in the blood and people measure it in the blood so in one sense, it's a measurement of the inflammation of the liver, this organ. So, that dropped about 18% under three months and at six months, it dropped 24%, a great direction. And then MDA, which is a measurement for oxidized fat, which you mentioned, you'll listen as many of them are exercise people, when they have serious respiration that they have oxidation but these are not that group. This one, they still study oxidized fat because they have serious inflammation. The oxidation also dropped 14 and 22% and then they measure Interleukin 6, Tumor Necrosis factor. These are clearly molecularly bad stuff. They also dropped about 20 to 25%. So, that's right.
Let me get you the last two stakeholders. Now, we're not health professionals anymore. So, this one here on NAFLD, why do the cardiologists care and why do the endocrinologists care? The cardiologists look for the triglyceride. They want the triglyceride to drop and it dropped 15%. HDL, also the HDL increased, which is very interesting. You want the HDL not to drop. It's very hard to increase HDL. They increase a little bit. And then finally, the endocrinologists, these are the people who really care about the liver.
So, they look for the HOMA IR which is a scale to study how their sugars are doing and the insulin are doing. The insulin and glucose response improved 18% and then the endocrinologists said that at how is the liver score in the liver doing? This is very specific. This, in the three months, it dropped 11% and in the six months, it dropped 16%. I know I'm giving you numbers so it's not passionate here. Ben, I just want to communicate right now, there are no drug to address this horrible thing and hopefully, your audience is not confused. If you go by supplement out there, they say liver support, those are not the same things. Like they use milk thistle, those are referring to toxins you got in your body. This, of course, high fat is toxin but this is beyond toxin. The entire fatty liver is choking the liver to death so you got to fix the fatty liver so that's what I meant with this.
Ben: Yes, it's very interesting. As I went through this textbook, there are some other things that I thought were quite interesting, the effects of tocotrienols on osteoporosis especially in postmenopausal women, the very significant effects on skin health and even its use as an effective adjuvant for antibiotic treatment against MRSA when used–I believe this was topically. And then there are a few very interesting studies on cardiovascular health. Of course, the anti-inflammation that you already talked about but what I think is kind of cool is that we discovered vitamin E as a component of things like lettuce and wheat germ back in the early 1900s but then, we have these ancient civilizations in South America, like the Mayans and the Incans and the Aztecs who use this annatto plant not just for the for the coloring purposes, which is you initially noticed it, but also, in folk medicine as a skin protectant, as a cardio tonic, and as an anti-inflammatory, and as an antibiotic. And so, it's kind of cool that we're now tapping into a little bit more of an ancient form of vitamin E that seems to be far more efficacious and even less harmful than this alpha-tocopherol that we're now using in a lot of our supplements.
Furthermore, the other thing that I really wanted to make sure that I pick your brain about on this interview is the fact that you found something else aside from tocotrienol in this annatto plant. I believe it was called geranylgeraniol and Jonathan, when I was talking with him, briefly filled me in on that but can you talk to me about this other compound in addition to the tocotrienol, this GG that you found in the annatto plant?
Barrie: Thank you. Yes, this is geranylgeraniol because it's a mouthful for words, so GG.
Barrie: Geranylgeraniol. If you just say geranyl alone, you can find them in many perfumery things that people add in to but two molecules or geranyl together, geranylgeraniol, this molecule is endogenous unlike vitamin E tocopherol and tocotrienol, you take it from the outside and the body does not make it but geranyl, GG, our body makes so therefore, it is an endogenous nutrient. It is meant to be there to perform certain tasks or make certain things. I would say there are many directions in this. I would say in the human; the Japanese are studying this because they have the longest population that is aging. So, they're studying GG because it's able to help promote the synthesis of testosterone so that it helps the elderly to thrive in life. They care less about the sexual drive part of testosterone. They came more about as they grow old, they still have a thrive in life like this. They are doing a lot of work on this, that GG helps to increase that.
In the plant kingdom, which we are not plants at all, but still, as a matter of note, that all the carotenoid that you see from beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and astaxanthin, if there were no GG, there will be no colors in life. So, GG is required for the synthesis of carotenoids. This is really the great, great grandfather of many, many compounds both in the animal, like in humans as well as in the plants but in the U.S., why is this compound important? I'll tell you. This compound is important and I bring this and hopefully, another time when this is ready, we will be the first company in the world putting this thing out and I'm thrilled to see where it's going to go with it but in the U.S., it's this.
Many, many Americans take statin drug for no other reason other than to lower cholesterol. I'm not questioning about the statin drug thing. Another time, I can talk about that but when you take the statin drug, I call statin drug an indiscriminate cholesterol reducer. That means to say if you hit the synthesis of an enzyme in exit five like Highway 95 in the Eastern United States, somewhere cholesterol reduction is exit 150, almost in Florida. That means everything from exit five to 135 also gets inhibited and that's why I call it indiscriminate cholesterol reducer even though it reduces cholesterol way down the stream.
Most people know our audience knows that if you take statin, CoQ10 drops. Good point, but that CoQ10 drop is not the reason why you have myopathy, that people take statin. It's GG. CoQ10 is probably at exit 50. This is relative and GG synthesis is at exit about 20, before. In fact, the GG molecule is inside CoQ10 so therefore, GG is a prerequisite requirement for the synthesis of CoQ10 and we saw this. We did it in cell line study and we have a human trial that if you take GG, it endogenously increased CoQ10, endogenously, Ben. Not taking CoQ10–so we know that this is something very basic to the human body but because people take so much statin and have myopathy, so this is what I'm saying, that if people need to manage a lipid, first is exercise and diet. If they couldn't then they should take tocotrienol and if they still couldn't, probably they would take statin because the doctor asked them to do that. If they take statin then the next action would be to take GG with statin because GG, at least, would be able to mitigate the myopathy.
Ben: This is GG, geranyl, this is not something that's currently on the market. This is something that's in development?
Barrie: This is currently in development and I think that the latter part of this year, Designs for Health is planning to launch this, to launch GG at the latter part of this year. They are still trying to figure out if this is for myopathy, for increased testosterone and also pain management so another time I can explain why this is also important for pain management. Most of these pain management studies are done in Brazil. Interestingly enough, the mechanism of action on the pain management is complementary but not similar to that of CBD.
Ben: Interesting. Wow! That's pretty cool. I'm sure Jonathan from Designs for Health will email me when this thing becomes available so I can I can let my audience know but in the meantime, I'm going to keep my eye on the research behind GG. I find this fascinating and regarding the tocotrienol, I know you guys do have the tocotrienol from the annatto plant now available on your website and I will link to that as well in the shownotes along with–if anybody wants to really take a deep dive into tocotrienols, the name of the book that I read is called, “Tocotrienols Vitamin E Beyond Tocopherols.” It's kind of a big textbook but I'll link to that.
I actually have both the first and second editions that I went through prior to this interview because I wanted to make sure before I had you on the show, this stuff was legit and that the textbooks are really good so I'll link to those in the shownotes as well. It was either you or Jonathan that sent me over a couple of helpful PDFs, just two- to three-page articles on this. If any of you want to read it and take a closer look at tocotrienols and also at some of the things that they're harvesting from this Amazonian plant, this annatto, I'll link to all of that in the shownotes as well over at BengreenFieldFitness.com/Tan, BengreenFieldFitness.com/T-A-N. Barrie, was there anything else that you wanted to share with us while I have you on the call?
Barrie: Yes. I think the last bit, we will be amiss not to touch this, on all the published studies in animals, more than half of them were on cancer. So, about 10 years ago, I decided that my company is small and I'm working on a desert island supplement and it works to kill cancer. I got to do something on cancer so now in Denmark, we have six clinical trials all on cancer and the kinds of cancers we are checking are ovarian, breast, colon and lung cancer, all clinical trials. Only my colleagues are doing pancreatic cancer in Florida so those are the outstanding ones. Of all of these, one of them is published. It's on ovarian cancer and we expect two more to be completed by the end of this year. Exciting things coming, but what about the ovarian cancer that have been published, this one here? I think that sometimes, and I talk about this, you do the best you can and then you get choked up. It actually works. Let me describe to you very simplistically the trial.
These are recurrent ovarian cancers, which means that they've taken chemo and radiation, whatever, nothing is working. In other words, it is a waiting time before the obvious thing that is going to happen to the patient. Usually, the last-ditch effort is to give them Avastin which is a $7.5-billion drug that Hoffman-La Roche makes. It is an anti-angiogenesis drug which means that it prevents the blood vessel from the tumor to go to suck more food into the tumor to fuel its growth and then when they chop them off, they cut off the feed line to the tumor so the tumor dies. At least that's the mechanism, so they give them Avastin. Now, they have a design of a study, the standard of care–remember, the curve that they're looking for is called Kaplan-Meiers Curve, survival Y axis and the X axis is number of months, not a pretty curve but that is the curve that they're looking for. They have one group that takes Avastin. They inject it into the body and then the other group, they give Avastin plus tocotrienol. The tocotrienol is given 900 milligram, 300 milligram pill for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 900. That's it. So, I described the study to you.
On the ones that were–and then when it's finished, they measure two things, progression-free survival and overall survival. Progression-free survival simply means that if they're given treatment, they wanted to see how long they can live with the treatment. On those that are on Avastin, six months. On those that are on Avastin and tocotrienol, 10.6 months. It's nearly double. For overall survival, sorry the first one was overall survival, the second one is progression-free survival is three months compared to seven months, so therefore, the survival has been increased double.
Now, when I say this, I know it is just only numbers. I don't know of any nutritional supplement ever been subject to such kind of scrutiny and if this tocotrienol were to be a drug, it would be all over the news. It's just published quietly away. We put a couple of press releases but my goal has always been the same. If it helps people's lives and overall survival, this deserves to be told and, Ben, thank you for allowing me to do this and the authors themselves said an overall decrease, overall disease control of 79% is high and 25% of the patients are still alive after 24 months. The other one just on Avastin, remember it's a $7.5-billion drug, after 12 months, they all passed away. Those that added tocotrienol, 25% still survive so they are very positive with this. They say a prolonged lifespan can be reached without negative influence on the quality of life. I'm just thrilled to do this. This is the first. The next one will be breast cancer. They expect that to be completed towards the end of this year.
Ben: Very interesting. If you have access to those studies, too, I can completely add those to the shownotes if people want take a deeper dive into those. Unfortunately, what happens quite a bit with a lot of these natural alternatives because they're non-monetizable and frankly difficult to get FDA approval based on the need for a lot of good robust clinical research on them and I know it's a whole political debate, we don't have time to get into but my ears always perk up whenever I find something because I've interviewed a lot of people on cancer and have kind of a database of cancer podcasts and past shows that I've done that I would definitely access heavily if I ever had cancer. Everything from ketogenic diets to a lot of different supplemental approaches and deuterium depleted water and kind of a multi-modal approach, NK killer cell injections. There's a lot out there but this would be an interesting one to add into the equation so I'm going to note that and if you have those research studies, send them over and I'll add those to the shownotes as well.
Also, folks, I know this was a little bit of a deep dive into the chemistry of vitamin E but if you have questions or thoughts or feedback for Barrie Tan or myself you can go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan and leave your comments over there and one of us will jump in and reply but in the meantime, if you do want to begin supplementing with tocotrienols, it's something I'm probably going to add into the mix, myself.
Admittedly, the multivitamin that I take has about 13 milligrams of tocopherols in it so I'll need to separate that from my tocopherol consumption because it will, from what I understand, can be competed for in terms of absorption by the tocopherols and hopefully, I'll find a good solution at some point for something that uses a tocotrienol rather than tocopherol. I'll probably pass this information on to the company that makes the multivitamin that I use to see if they might want to make a switch from tocopherols to tocotrienols based on what you filled me in on but in the meantime, a lot of stuff to think about here and my mind was sufficiently blown by those textbooks and I really wanted to get you on to talk to folks about this. Thanks for coming on the show, Barrie, and sharing all this stuff with us and for the research that you do.
Barrie: Thank you so much, Ben, and thank you for your patient listeners is out there listening. I appreciate this.
Ben: Yes, alright, folks. Show notes are at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan. Until next time. I'm Ben Greenfield and Dr. Barrie Tan signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Tan. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
At the recent A4M conference in Vegas, I ran into intriguing research from Dr. Barrie Tan, a scientist with a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry. For the last 35 years, Barrie has immersed himself in the world of Vitamin E (particularly from annatto) and is considered one of the world’s foremost experts credited with discovering a molecule called “tocotrienol” from three major natural sources:
- Palm: from his native Malaysia…
- Rice: at the invitation of the Prince of Thailand…
- Annatto: chance finding while in Ecuador searching for lutein…
It turned out that palm and rice lacked the potency as they contain too much tocopherol, so Barrie moved his research interest away briefly from tocotrienol when by serendipity he found the best-in-class tocotrienol in the annatto plant from the Amazon. Since then, Barrie’s relationship with annatto has spanned 20 years. Barrie has worked with the US Armed Forces on using tocotrienol on “radiation countermeasures” and pioneered the science behind the annatto working with the leading scientists in the world to prove the multiple benefits of tocotrienol.
Meanwhile, everyone (lay folk and nutritionist) is languishing with the lack-luster non-performing tocopherol, which Barrie calls the “wrong way to E.” Most tocopherol trials failed and did not deliver. But in multiple clinical trials spanning chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, osteopenia, and inflammation, tocotrienol from annatto has proven clinical benefits. Barrie is currently working on multiple cancer trials after preliminary success with end-stage patients.
This is because not all forms of Vitamin E are created equal…
…Vitamin E is not a single nutrient, but rather a complex made up of 8 distinct compounds: 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols. These components have slightly different chemical structures, and these differences impart unique properties that influence their biochemical functions and their effects in the body. Most conventional supplements are typically rich in tocopherols—alpha-tocopherol, in particular—but the tocotrienol fractions have unique effects across a variety of tissues that make them desirable to supplement on their own, without tocopherols.
Tocotrienols, especially delta-tocotrienol as sourced from the annatto plant (bixa orellana), have shown impressive effects in supporting overall health. Tocotrienols are associated with significantly positive effects on cardiovascular health, particularly with regard to influencing healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They may also be beneficial for a healthy inflammatory response, an important asset since chronic inflammation is a factor in damage to the cardiovascular system.
Having a positive influence on lipids (fats in the blood), tocotrienols may be beneficial for those with a buildup of fat in the liver, as well as those who need help managing blood sugar and insulin levels. Clinical research also suggests tocotrienols may be a valuable addition to the supplement regimens of those who need nutritional support for strong, healthy bones.
Here is a recent remark of Jonathan Lizotte, Designs for Health Founder and Board Chairman:
“The health benefits realized by annatto tocotrienol go beyond that of any other nutrient I know. It’s the one supplement I would want with me if I were stranded on a desert island! This is a change for me as after 35 years in this industry, my top desert island supplements have switched between magnesium and fish oil and now it stands firmly as annatto tocotrienol alone. A minimum of 150 mg per day is a must for every adult alive.”
Apart from tocotrienol, Barrie discovered and has extracted the first-in-class geranylgeraniol (GG), also from the annatto plant. GG has benefits as 1) testosterone and progesterone booster; 2) pain alleviation and; 3) sarcopenia, myopathy and muscle building from this endogenous nutrient. GG is the last common step between plant and mammal (has huge implications), and may possibly be the last frontier in anti-aging nutrients. Here are Dr. Tan’s two anti-aging bottom-line nutrients: tocotrienol (exogenous) will work from outside-in, and geranylgeraniol (endogenous) will work from inside-out.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-How Dr. Tan discovered annatto and became interested in vitamin E…9:05
- Began while an assistant prof at U of Mass in Amherst
- Palm oil in his native Malaysia is orange; is bleached out when it's processed
- Received grant from the Malaysian government to research
- Research process on palm oil:
- Remove all fats and oil
- Remove all kerosene colors (orange)
- 25% of what was left was alpha-tocopherol, the most common variant of vitamin E
- Remainder was tocotrienol
- Led to research on different forms of lung cancer (stopped soon after)
- Prince of Thailand hired him to research
- Buddhists don't like anything mitochondrial related
- Wanted plant-derived, not animal-derived research
- Most beneficial results came from rice bran oil (contained tocotrienol)
- Research funding slowed due to a slow economy in 1987
- Needed a break in 1998 from studying tocotrienol; this led to studying treating macular degeneration
- Vitamin E is made up of 8 different compounds
- 4 of them are tocopherols; 4 are tocotrienols
- The most common are tocopherols, particularly alpha-tocopherols
- Tocotrienols are less common and are the locus of Dr. Tan's research
- Research on the efficacy of vitamin E as it pertains to exercise was primarily done on tocopherols
- Vitamin E was discovered in 1922 at Berkeley
- Was extracted from spinach
- Assisted in bringing fetus to full-term
- Alpha-tocopherol is the “currency” of vitamin E; all other strains (delta, gamma tocopherol) is converted into alpha during processing
- Even “all-natural” alpha-tocopherol is partly synthetic
- How to undo the damage from an alpha-tocopherol heavy supplement:
- Best thing is to stop taking alpha-tocopherol supplement
- Ideal intake of alpha-tocopherol is 15 mg per day, derived from natural foods
- If you didn't get all that, get this… A vitamin E supplement is not derived from what we would find in nature. It is only a few strands of tocopherol, mostly alpha-tocopherol. The original use of alpha-tocopherol has long outlived its purpose. Dr. Tan advocates for the other strands, particularly tocotrienols for humans to derive the full benefits of vitamin E.
-The major differences between alpha-tocopherols and tocotrienols…30:55
- Tri = 3; E = double bond
- Tocopherol has a head with an OH group; tail is saturated
- Tocotrienol tail has 3 double bonds, so it is unsaturated; head is smaller than tocopherol
- Lipid antioxidantsare the low-hanging fruit for our body to be oxidized
- Astaxanthinis a powerful singlet antioxidant (efficacious in an environment that is oxygen-deficient)
- >90% of antioxidants in the phospholipid cells are vitamin E molecules
- Remaining ~10% are hydrocarbon caratonoids
- Beta carotene and lycopene contain nothing else than hydrogen and carbon
- 1995 study by Dr. Lester Packer of UC Berkeley:
- Used electron-resonance spectroscopyto compare alpha-tocopherol and tocotrienol
- Concluded that both capture free radicals, to protect the lipid from oxidation
- However, tocotrienol is 50 times more effective in protecting the cell
- Comparison: Tocopherol is like municipal police within a small jurisdiction; tocotrienol is like a state trooper with far larger jurisdiction
- Tocotrienol recruits to cancer cells 10X more than tocopherol
- Critics say that only alpha-tocopherol is found in the blood; therefore all advocacy for tocotrienol is moot
- Only alpha-tocopherol has a “transport protein”, which chaperones a particular molecule to a site of action
- The transport protein ensures the conservation of alpha-tocopherol (which is why supplementation is bad news)
-Dr. Tan's discovery of the amazing annatto plant while living in South America…43:20
- Went to find lutein and zeaxanthin
- Discovered the annatto while searching for marigold flowers in Brazil
- It was nicknamed the “lipstick plant” due to its intense red color on the inside
- South Americans called it “achuite”; is used as a food coloring
- Tan recognized the annatto to be a caratenoid:
- Carotene in nature has to be protected by something due to its instability (plants changing color in the spring)
- Because the annatto did not change color, he realized it was a potentially powerful antioxidant
- Biggest surprise of his research:
- Did not contain polyphenols, nor any type of tocopherol.
- It contained primarily delta-tocotrienol, which had been shown to be the most potent form of vitamin E.
- The plant is naturally free of any type of tocopherol
-How the annatto plant is used to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)…52:30
- NAFLD is the new name for “metabolic syndrome”
- 20% of youth and 40% of adults in America are obese
- 3 of 5 risk markers:
- Elevated triglycerides
- Reduced HDL
- Increased weight circumference
- 80-100 million Americans have NAFLD in some form
- The liver is very intolerant of fat
- Symptoms resemble those of alcoholics, hence the name “non-alcoholic”
- Notable data from Dr. Tan's study:
- Gave people 600 mg of tocotrienol vitamin E; 300 mg twice daily
- 70 patients; double-blind; placebo controlled
- Did at the beginning, 3 months after, 6 months after
- 3 months: lost average of 10 pounds
- 6 months: lost average of 17 pounds
- Waist circumference dropped 3 cm
- Use caution when purchasing products using the words “liver support” in its packaging
-The other compound Dr. Tan found in the annatto plant in addition to tocotrienols…1:03:10
- GG: geraniol geranial
- It's an endogenous nutrient, naturally produced by the human body
- Helps with the synthesis of testosterone
- Older folks take it, not for the sex drive, but to have a zest for life
- Required for the synthesis of caratenoid
- GG is a prerequisite for the synthesis of CoQ10
- GG is currently in development; not currently on the market
- Its use as a pain management tool is complimentary, but not similar to, CBD
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
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