A LIFE-SAVER: As more medical researchers all over the world discover the unique ability of palm oil vitamin E in seeking and killing cancer cells, Malaysia steps up funding for such studies in the hope of saving more lives. Ooi Tee Ching writes
DAVOS Life Science Pte Ltd head of research Dr Fong Chee Wai picks up a test tube of Vitamin E and recounted that many people think the Vitamin E is singular when this oil soluble nutrient is actually a family of eight siblings.
"The complete vitamin E family is made up of four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Soft oils like olive, soya, canola and sunflower only contain tocopherols.
"Tropical oils like palm, rice bran and coconut, however, have both tocopherols and tocotrienols."
Over the last 30 years, scientific studies have shown that palm oil vitamin E, particularly the tocotrienols, is a far more potent antioxidant than tocopherols.
In an interview with New Sunday Times, he explained that the difference between tocotrienols and tocopherols is the "tail" on the vitamin E molecule.
"Tocopherols have long saturated tails while tocotrienols have unsaturated tails," said the scientist from Davos, which is fully-owned by Ipoh-based plantation company Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd.
The unique structure of tocotrienols enables them to do many things that tocopherols cannot do.
This includes easier access to all types of cells, more powerful anti-oxidative function in cells, the ability to penetrate internal organs, and the activation of a wide variety of gene signals.
"It is these unique biological activities in tocotrienols that help in body cell regeneration and make it able to protect healthy cells.
"More importantly, there is also increasing evidence of these potent antioxidants possessing warrior-like ability to zealously hunt down and kill cancerous cells."
It is this life-saving prospect from cancer that prompted the government via Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to boost funding for palm oil vitamin E trials.
In a separate interview, MPOB chairman Datuk Seri Shahrir Samad said, "We're encouraged that more medical researchers are looking into the potential of palm tocotrienols in the prevention and eventually, treatment of cancer."
He had just returned from a working visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (PMCC) in Melbourne with Davos Life Science which is supplying palm tocotrienols for the cancer trials.
PMCC is Australia's only public hospital dedicated to cancer treatment, professional oncologist training, research and education.
It is one of the few cancer treatment facilities in the world that has a fully-integrated clinical and laboratory programme situated alongside a hospital.
Last year, Breast Cancer Network Australia estimated that 14,300 women and men in Australia were diagnosed with breast cancer, making it the most common killer disease.
Until now, the cure for cancer seems elusive because cancer cells are known to mutate and manoeuvre around drugs.
In a pioneering move, PMCC is embarking on fluorine labelling on palm tocotrienols to trace how this nutrient travels in the body.
"By marking the tocotrienols and using high resolution imaging, we hope to see how this team of super-soldiers fight and block the many pathways of cancer cells. It is through such collaboration with PMCC we can gain a deeper understanding of the health benefits of palm oil vitamin E."
Tocotrienols are usually extracted from palm oil because the oil palm tree is able to produce the highest concentrate compared to other oil crops.
Every year, Malaysia exports some RM50 million worth of palm oil health supplements, mainly to Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan.
A kilogramme of palm oil vitamin E sells for US$500 (RM1,570).