Palm oil from the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) is the richest source of a type of vitamin E known as alpha-tocotrienol (alpha-TCT). It is one of 8 known forms of vitamin E, and is a strong antioxidant and has other properties including neuroprotection. Palm oil-derived alpha-TCT does reach brain tissue. However, that has not been well-researched.
Brain tissue is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as arachidonic acid (AA), which is very susceptible to damage by oxidation. Neurodegeneration of the brain is associated with disturbed AA metabolism in such illnesses as ischemic stroke. At nanomolar levels, palm oil alpha-TCT is capable of reducing neurodegeneration by altering AA metabolism. Alpha-TCT has neuroprotective properties not found in other forms of vitamin E.
Palm oil has not become a major component of the western diet because of the high concentration of saturated fatty acid (SFA) compared to other vegetable oils. SFA is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease; however, palm oil-rich diets show conflicting effects on LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Palm oil is naturally hydrogenated and trans-fat-free. As well, the high levels of vitamin E in palm oil give it a long shelf-life.
The vitamin E family includes tocotrienols and tocopherols. LDL-cholesterol is a transporter of vitamin E, carrying it to different parts of the body. Tocopherols are found at higher levels in plants. Palm oil is one of the best sources of tocotrienols. Most vegetable oils contain only tocopherols.
Tocotrienols have beneficial functions not seen in tocopherols. Micromolar amounts of tocotrienols can suppress the liver enzyme responsible for the synthesis of cholesterol. (The same enzyme is the target of the statin drugs for lowering cholesterol.) Tocotrienols can suppress the growth of breast cancer cells. Dietary supplementation with alpha-TCT helps prevent neurodegeneration, even at nanomolar concentrations.
Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant and is important in protecting lipid membranes of the nervous system from peroxidative damage, with alpha-TCT being especially effective.
CONCLUSION: Alpha-TCT appears to be the most potent of the vitamin E family of vitamins of tocopherols and tocotrienols.