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Tocopherols as antioxidants in lipid-based systems: the combination of chemical and physicochemical interactions determines their efficiency

Barouh N., Bourlieu-Lacanal C., Figueroa-Espinoza M.C., Durand E., Villeneuve P.. 2022. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 21 (1) : p. 642-688.

DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12867

Lipid oxidation is a major concern in the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical sectors. The degradation of unsaturated lipids affects the nutritional, physicochemical, and organoleptic properties of products and can lead to off-flavors and to the formation of potentially harmful oxidation compounds. To prevent or slow down lipid oxidation, different antioxidant additives are used alone or in combination to achieve the best possible efficiency with the minimum possible quantities. In manufactured products, that is, heterogeneous systems containing lipids as emulsions or bulk phase, the efficiency of an antioxidant is determined not only by its chemical reactivity, but also by its physical properties and its interaction with other compounds present in the products. The antioxidants most widely used on the industrial scale are probably tocopherols, either as natural extracts or pure synthetic molecules. Considerable research has been conducted on their antioxidant activity, but results regarding their efficiency are contradictory. Here, we review the known mechanisms behind the antioxidant activity of tocopherols and discuss the chemical and physical features that determine their efficacy. We first describe their chemical reactivity linked with the main factors that modulate it between efficient antioxidant capacity and potential prooxidant effects. We then describe their chemical interactions with other molecules (phenolic compounds, metals, vitamin C, carotenes, proteins, and phospholipids) that have potential additive, synergistic, or antagonist effects. Finally, we discuss other physical parameters that influence their activity in complex systems including their specific interactions with surfactants in emulsions and their behavior in the presence of association colloids in bulk oils.

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