Health benefits of red palm oil

Dr. Oz touted the health benefits behind red palm oil in his recent show, but what does the science show?

Bryan See

March 4, 2013

11 Min Read
Health benefits of red palm oil

Red Palm Oil, the staple oil in the Africa and Asia continents, naturally contains unique phytonutrients that are proven to be beneficial to human health. The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), from which red palm oil is derived contains the phytonutrients tocotrienols (vitamin E), mixed carotenoids, phytosterols, squalene and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Of these, the tocotrienols and carotenoids in particular, are proven to confer health benefits such as potent cardioprotection, neuroprotection and skin nutrition; as mentioned by Dr. Mehmet Oz in his recent TV program, where he called it his most miraculous find in 2013 to address the aging process. 

Scientific evidence (more than 700 published papers) have shown tocotrienols together with the phytonutrients from red palm oil contribute to these health benefits.

The two main phytonutrients concentrated from red palm oil and available as commercial extracts in the market are tocotrienols and carotenes complex.  Both full-spectrum palm tocotrienol complex and carotenoids complex , are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) according to Title 21 Code of Federal Regulation for use in foods and drinks, with a No Objection Letter" from FDA.  In addition, these products are not genetically modified and are vegetarian, kosher and halal certified.

Tocotrienols are members of the vitamin E family. In the body, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant that protects lipid from peroxidation and help quench free radicals. However, there is a difference in antioxidant potency between tocotrienol and its sibling tocopherol. Tocotrienol has been shown to be 40 to 60 times more potent than tocopherol as an antioxidant. Similar to the tocopherols, tocotrienols consist of 4 members: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta isomers.1 Structurally, both tocotrienol and tocopherol possess a chromanol head attached to a carbon side chain. Tocotrienol has three double bonds in its side chain, but tocopherol has a saturated tail. Many studies have suggested that this polyunsaturation in tocotrienols contributes to more potent effects than tocopherols.

Learn more about the sustainability of red palm oil in this INSIDER article.

Research shows tocotrienols are beneficial to consumers who want to maintain healthy brain (neuroprotection), blood lipid levels, arterial compliance (by reducing arterial stiffness), liver health, skin nutrition and immune protection.

The deep orange red color of red palm oil is contributed by natural pigments called carotenoids. There are more than 600 different carotenoids known to exist in nature. Carotenoids have long been used as natural food colorants in food and drinks, as well as cosmetics. Red palm oil is a natural plant source of carotenes in terms of retinol (vitamin A) equivalents, providing 7,000 retinol equivalents (RE) per 100 grams. This is about 17 times as much beta-carotene as carrots, in terms of retinol equivalents. Some carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, act as precursor of vitamin A. Lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin are carotenoids that do not have vitamin A activity, but possess other health-promoting biological properties. The primary forms of carotenoids in red palm oil are beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene and lycopene. Palm oil contains the highest alpha-carotene level among all the plant sources.

There are four main commercial sources of carotenoids, namely synthetic beta-carotene, algaes beta-carotene, fermentative beta-carotene and palm carotenoids. Synthetic beta-carotene is an artificial colorant containing only a single form of isomer (all trans beta-carotene). Likewise, algaes and fermentative beta-carotenes predominantly contain a single isomer (more than 96 percent as beta-carotene), which are not true mixed carotenoids complex.

In comparison, palm carotenoids complex is a fruit/food-based natural carotenoid. Natural palm carotenoids complex is extracted from palm fruits via a mild extraction process, which ensures maximum natural preservation of carotenoids. Apart from beta-carotene, palm carotenoids complex contains the highest level of alpha-carotene compared to carotenoids from other sources. It also contains appreciable amount of gamma-carotene and lycopene.

Commercial sources of carotenoids

Palm Carotenoid Complex


Crude palm oil

(Elaeis guinnensis)


(D. salina)


(B. trispora)



33% alpha-carotene

65% beta-carotene

2% other carotenoids (mixed carotenoid complex)

> 96%

beta-carotene (predominantly a single beta-carotene source)

> 98%

beta-carotene (predominantly a single beta-carotene source)


beta-carotene (single beta-carotene source)


Highest level of alpha-carotene

(33 to 35%)

Negligible level of alpha-carotene

Negligible level of alpha-carotene

No alpha-carotene

Cis and trans isomers

Cis and trans

Cis and trans

~ 100% trans

100% trans


A series of NIH-funded research that spanned longer than  a decade showed tocotrienols (as Tocomin SupraBio®, from Carotech Inc.) support brain health by triggering and increasing blood circulation through collateral arteries to the area of the brain that suffered ischemic stroke.2  In addition, oral supplementation with Tocomin SupraBio® in human subjects showed tocotrienols are well absorbed and distributed to organs and tissues, such as the brain, liver, heart muscle, adipose tissue, blood and skin; reaching levels that more than enough to confer neuroprotection.3

Based on these encouraging and significant results,  a clinical trial named NUTRITION," which is the acronym for Natural Tocotrienol Against Ischemic Stroke Event," has been commissioned and is now been carried out at  the Ohio State University Medical Center. NUTRITION will evaluate the effects of orally supplemented natural full spectrum palm tocotrienol complex (as Tocomin SupraBio) on platelet function and blood lipid profile including high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol. Dyslipidemia and hypercoagulable are established risk factors of stroke. This study aims to clarify the potential of full-spectrum palm tocotrienol complex to mitigate these important stroke risks.


Peer review journals have documented palm tocotrienol complexs promising hypocholesterolemic properties.4,5

A recent double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial shows that subjects with high blood cholesterol who received Tocomin SupraBio demonstrated significant reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels within four month of supplementation. Continuous significant reduction was seen on the fifth and sixth month. In contrast, subjects in the placebo group had negligible changes in their total and LDL cholesterol levels compared to baseline.6

High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the major risk factors of cardiovascular diseases and strokes. In a human clinical trial, patients supplemented with palm tocotrienol complex for two months resulted in significant reduction in aortic systolic blood pressure.7

Decreased arterial compliance or increased arterial stiffness is a predictor of cardiovascular events in both normal and diseased human subjects. A randomized controlled clinical trial demonstrated that oral supplementation of Tocomin SupraBio for two months reduced arterial stiffness in healthy adults.8

In a prospective, cross-sectional, population-based study involving a randomly selected population sample of 392 men and women aged 45-65 (The BRUNECK study), the relationship between atherosclerosis (carotid and femoral artery) risk and plasma alpha- and beta-carotene level (mixed carotenoids) was evaluated.9 This study provided evidence that atherosclerosis risk was inversely related to plasma alpha- and beta-carotene levels, indicating a protective role of high levels of carotenes against atherogenesis.

Skin nutrition

Vitamin E, synthetic or natural, is widely used in the cosmetic/personal care industry. The main reason for the use of vitamin E was for its antioxidant properties in the protection of skin against the onslaught of free radicals or oxidative stress caused by chemical insult and UV rays in our daily atmosphere. Most of the vitamin E used in cosmetic is mainly of the tocopherol form (synthetic and natural forms).

Fueled by the many recent scientific publications on the benefits of tocotrienols in cosmetic application and women's health, the use of tocotrienols has been gaining tremendous attention in the oral and topical cosmetic and personal care industry. Exciting science and research are being conducted on tocotrienol for its superior protection of skin and skin aging compared to tocopherol as well as the skins first line of defense against free radicals.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, dermatologist at the Yale Medical Center, in his New York Times' best-selling book, "The Wrinkle Cure," advocated the use of tocotrienols in cream to promote skin health and prevent skin aging.

The research on tocotrienols in the protection of skin has been fairly new, i.e., less than 15 years. More research is currently being conducted either by companies or universities to understand and evaluate the efficacy of tocotrienols in skin protection and skin nourishment. Scientists believe tocotrienols play a major and important role in the protection of the skin, especially in the prevention of oxidative stress and skin anti-aging and wound-healing.

Liver health

A recent human clinical study completed at The Ohio State Universtiy Medical Center also reported that end-stage liver patients (those waiting for liver transplantation) supplemented with Tocomin SupraBio resulted in statistically significant protective effects.10 Another group of researcher in Malaysia also reported that taking 200 mg of Tocomin SupraBio twice a day was significantly effective in addressing fatty liver. This study was presented at the Liver Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (ASSLD) in Boston in 2010.

Source of vitamin A

Research has shown consumption of red palm oil significantly enhanced vitamin A levels in humans, and it is beneficial in preventing vitamin A deficiency.11  Vitamin A deficiency may lead to blindness, skin disease and weakened immune function.

The human body is able to convert provitamin-A carotenoids (alpha- and beta-carotene) when there is a deficiency, hence it is safer to supplement with carotenes than consuming vitamin A (retinoids) directly. Excessive consumption of retinoids may lead to toxicity with symptoms ranging from mild, such as headache, nausea and dry, itchy skin to severe, such as liver damage.

Natural food color

Palm fruit carotenoids are widely used in the fat- and dairy-processing industry to standardize the color of margarine, butter and ghee. They are also widely used as a natural colorant in confectionery and convenience foods; and to replace synthetic colorants in the beverage industry. The trend, especially in Europe, the United States and Japan, is moving toward replacing synthetic with natural colorants.

Potent antioxidant

Carotenoids are potent antioxidants. Professor Lester Packer of the University California Berkeley showed alpha-carotene is a more potent antioxidant than beta-carotene .12

Red palm oil is rich in natural phytonutrients that are important for health. These phytonutrients (ie : tocotrienols and carotenes) are also powerful antioxidants that help maintain the stability of the oil during cooking process and may extend the shelf life of food prepared with red palm oil.

Numerous scientific studies have shown how tocotrienols and carotenoids work in supporting important health conditions, especially in supporting brain and heart health, liver health as well as skin nutrition. However, in all these research, a common and important thread for positive effects has been the naturally-attained full spectrum tocotrienols or carotenoids complex. There have been negative studies for both vitamin E (ie : alpha-tocopherol) and beta-carotene in the past, due to the fact that those studies only used a single form (isomer) of the nutrient. The market is moving towards taking what nature produces as a wholesome complex of ingredients, naturally found in our diet as opposed to a single ingredient formulation. Therefore, it is important to use what nature produces as the combination of nutrients naturally found in red palm oil work synergistically to confer the optimum functionality and health benefits.

Bryan See is the product manager of Carotech . He has a bachelors degree of science in food technology from the University Science Malaysia. He has been working at Carotech for the past seven  years, as product manager for the Asia Market and more recently as a product manager for the U.S. market. His knowledge and experience on tocotrienols (Tocomin®) and carotenoids (Caromin®) as well as palm oil are gained from Carotech, a GMP (good manufacturing practice)-certified palm tocotrienols and carotenoids.


1. Elena Serbinova, et al. "Free Radical Recycling and Intramembrane Mobility in the Antioxidant properties of Alpha-tocopherol and Alpha-tocotrienol." Free Radical Biology & Medicine 10 (1991): 263-275.

2. Rink C, et al. "Tocotrienol vitamin E protects against preclinical canine ischemic stroke by inducing arteriogenesis." Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism 31 (2011): 2218-2230.

3. Patel V, et al. "Oral Tocotrienols are Transported to Human Tissues and Delay the Progression of the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease Score in Patients." The Journal of Nutrition 142, no. 3 (2012): 513-9.

4.  Qureshi AA, et al. "Lowering of serum cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic humans by tocotrienols (palmvitee)." Am J Clin Nutr 53 (1991): 1021S-6S.

5. Qureshi AA, et al. "Response of hypercholesterolemic subjects to administration of tocotrienols." Lipids 30 (1995): 1173-1177.

6. KH Yuen et al. "Effect of Mixed-Tocotrienols in Hypercholesterolemic Subjects." Functional Foods in Health and Disease 3 (2011): 106-117.

7. Rasool AHG, et al. "Dose dependent elevation of plasma tocotrienol levels and its effect on arterial compliance, plasma total antioxidant status, and lipid profile in healthy humans supplemented with tocotrienol rich vitamin E." J. Nutr Sci Vitaminol 5, no. 6 (2006): 473-478.

8. Rasool, AHG et al. "Arterial compliance and vitamin E blood levels with a self emulsifying preparation of tocotrienol rich vitamin E." Arch Pharm Res Vol 31, no. 9 (2008): 1212-1217.

9. Willeit L, et al. "High plasma levels of alpha- and beta-caroene are associated with lower risk of atherosclerosis: Results from the Bruneck Study." Atherosclerosis 153, no. 1 (2000): 231-239.

10 3. Patel V, et al. "Oral Tocotrienols are Transported to Human Tissues and Delay the Progression of the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease Score in Patients." The Journal of Nutrition 142, no. 3 (2012): 513-9.

11. Solomons NW. "Plant sources of vitamin A and human nutrition: red palm oil does the job." Nutr Rev 56 (1998): 309-311.

12. Packer L, et al. "Distribution and antioxidant activity of a palm oil carotene in rats." Biochemistry International 28, no. 5 (1992): 881-886.

About the Author(s)

Bryan See

Bryan See is business development manager at ExcelVite Inc. USA.

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