, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 834–840

Comparison of free α-tocopherol and α-tocopheryl acetate as sources of vitamin E in rats and humans


  • Graham W. Burton
    • Division of ChemistryNational Research Council
  • Keith U. Ingold
    • Division of ChemistryNational Research Council
  • David O. Foster
    • Division of Biological SciencesNational Research Council
  • Shee C. Cheng
    • Division of ChemistryNational Research Council
  • Ann Webb
    • Division of ChemistryNational Research Council
  • Lise Hughes
    • Division of ChemistryNational Research Council

DOI: 10.1007/BF02536201

Cite this article as:
Burton, G.W., Ingold, K.U., Foster, D.O. et al. Lipids (1988) 23: 834. doi:10.1007/BF02536201


The uptake of α-tocopherol from 2R,4′R,8′R-α-tocopherol and 2R,4′R,8′R-α-tocopheryl acetate has been compared in rats and humans. The two forms of vitamin E were compared simultaneously in each subject (rat and human) by using a combination of deuterium-substitution and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to distinguish and measure the competitive uptake of α-tocopherol from an orally ingested mixture of the acetate and the free phenol forms. When rats were dosed in a manner analogous to that used in traditional bioassays, i.e., providing the two forms of vitamin E one daily in tocopherol-stripped corn oil for four successive days immediately prior to sacrifice, the net uptake of α-tocopherol from the free phenol form was only half that from the acetate. This result is consistent with the greater activity of the acetate that had been observed previously in bioassays. However, when the two forms of tocopherol were intubated into rats as a single dose mixed in with an aqueous bolus of standard laboratory diet, the amount of α-tocopherol taken up from the free form after 24 hr was very similar to that derived from the acetate. In five adult humans, competitive uptake studies of the two forms after a single dose taken with a meal showed that the amount of α-tocopherol from the free phenol form was equal to that from the acetate in plasma and red blood cells. These findings illustrate the value and potential of using deuterium-substituted α-tocopherol and GC-MS in evaluating the effectiveness of different forms of vitamin E in human studies. The results also stress the need for caution in using data obtained from animal bioassays when considering comparative human nutritional standards.



α-tocopheryl acetate




ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid








sodium dodecyl sulfate


gas chromatography-mass spectrometry


high performance liquid chromatography


red blood cells

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© American Oil Chemists’ Society 1988