Health E-Insights: You are known for discovering tocotrienols in three major natural sources. What led you to this discovery?
Tan: While my first discoveries of tocotrienol were in palm and rice, my discovery of tocotrienol from annatto really excites me. I was in South America searching for something else entirely—a giant marigold—when I stumbled across the annatto plant. I was stunned by its beauty and suspected that it must contain a very powerful antioxidant in order to preserve its bright red pigment. A scientist by design, my curiosity drove me to perform intensive research on this plant. When results emerged, I was shocked ... it was vitamin E tocotrienol. What was even more shocking was that the annatto contained only the most potent forms: delta-tocotrienol and gamma-tocotrienol. To date, annatto is the only known source of tocotrienols that is tocopherol-free.
Health E-Insights: Was the moment you confirmed this discovery, one of the best days of your life?
Tan: It truly was. As I mentioned, I was completely taken by surprise that I had discovered a natural source of pure tocotrienols. It was one of my happiest and unexpected moments as a scientist. To put this in perspective, the American Chemical Society currently estimates 50 million unique chemicals registered in the their database—and then to find the one plant that contains only delta- and gamma-tocotrienols was a dream come true.
Health E-Insights: Why is vitamin E and tocotrienol so important to leading a healthy life?
Tan: We have about 38 trillion cells in our body that require antioxidant protection, which largely come from tocopherols and tocotrienols. Tocotrienol has been shown to be 50-times more effective than tocopherol as a lipid antioxidant protector. Tocotrienol is the hinge (snugged perfectly in cell walls; > 90% of all antioxidants) to protect and gate cell walls that entrap the large cytoplasm and all its organelle contents. This is healthy life at the cellular level.
Health E-Insights: Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Tan: There are two individuals who stand out as having a major impact on my life, Dr. David Kritchevsky and my mother. Their impact has become part of my DNA. Dr. Kritchevsky was a biochemist and specialized in lipid nutrition and cholesterol. He was a director at the Wistar Institute, one of the leading biomedical research institutions located at the University of Pennsylvania. He had some interesting instructional methods, which included teaching the Krebs cycle to the tune of Tiptoe through the Tulips. Being thought of as one of the most influential researchers on diet and health of the 20th century, what pushed me towards the creative pursuit were 10 simple words he said, “Read what everybody else reads but think what nobody does.” Just as influential, but more personal, was my mother and her sheer determination to help me persist with the things I believe in. After my father passed away when I was 10 years old, she was left with little resources to raise me and my three younger siblings. She had a vision for her children to succeed, and always sought solutions. The memory of her perseverance is an inherent light that has persisted throughout 45-plus years (and counting) of my scientific research drive to discover.
Health E-Insights: Please discuss any recent research findings.
Tan: We have completed many exciting clinical trials in the past year. One in particular involved advanced stage ovarian cancer patients. These patients were provided 300 mg of annatto tocotrienols three times a day alongside their standard treatment (Avastin). The result: 70% disease stabilization and an increased survival rate that nearly doubled.1 We also had compelling results from a recent 3-month study on patients suffering from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition currently affecting 25% of U.S. adults. Notably, patients in the annatto tocotrienol-supplemented group lost an average of 9.7 pounds and improved their fatty liver index score by 11% with associated liver enzymes and CRP decreases.2 A soon-to-be published 6-month study establishes this rare find with even stronger numbers. We have initiated a 12-month NAFLD trial to address this epidemic affecting about 80 million Americans.
Health E-Insights: About two years ago American River introduced a company rebrand. What benefits have you seen?
Tan: At the time of the rebrand, our intent was to expand the reach of our product and pay tribute to the plant by reflecting the colors and shape of annatto seeds within the logo. Doing so has improved our recognition, and we are seeing significant growth in our business as a result. Perhaps a more important accomplishment of the rebranded DeltaGold mark is its celebration of annatto tocotrienol, a unique ingredient that American River Nutrition innovated and commercialized.
Health E-Insights: As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the institution to dampen the inspiration. How do you keep this from happening?
Tan: As a science-based company, we put a lot of emphasis on research, powered sufficiently with an in-house lab and by cultivating scientific and clinical relationships from top universities around the world. We also ensure that we stay current on published literature and scientific breakthroughs, often traveling across the U.S. and globally to meet with the world’s best thinkers in the field.
Health E-Insights: Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
Tan: Within American River Nutrition, we encourage curiosity, because a passion to learn can lead to the type of innovation that disrupts norms and improves the common good. The level of independence we foster inspires passion, not only for the science and products, but also for the consumers that ultimately experience the benefits of the ingredients we provide. At the same time, we cultivate an environment of working together on mutual projects and reducing ideas to tangible practice.
Sheldon Baker is CEO of the Baker Dillon Group LLC and has created numerous nutraceutical brand marketing communications and public relations campaigns for many well-known supplement and food industry companies. For Health E-Insights interview consideration or brand marketing consulting, contact him at SBaker@BakerDillon.com.
1. Pervez, M.A., et al. “Effects of Delta-tocotrienol Supplementation on Liver Enzymes, Inflammation, Oxidative stress and Hepatic Steatosis in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology, 2018. 29(2): p. 170-176.
2. Thomsen CB, Andersen RF, Steffensen KD, Adimi P, Jakobsen, A. “Delta tocotrienol in recurrent ovarian cancer. A phase II trial.” Pharmacological Research, 2019;141:392-6. Epub 2019/01/15.