Taurine is a key amino acid involved in nearly every aspect of health, from heart health to brain function and beyond. Produced in the body and found naturally in a variety of food sources and supplements, there are plenty of options to help you get your fix.
So where does taurine come from, what does taurine do and is taurine bad for you?
Keep reading for everything you need to know about this important amino acid, and the many potential taurine benefits that it can provide.
So what is taurine? Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is a type of amino acid that is found in the body and is considered the most abundant amino acid in the heart, retina, skeletal muscle, brain and immune cells.
The word “taurine” stems from the Latin word taurus, which means bull or ox, because it was first isolated from ox bile in 1827 by German scientists Friedrich Tiedemann and Leopold Gmelin.
However, contrary to popular belief, there’s no association between taurine and bull sperm. In fact, it’s found in a variety of natural sources, both in the body and throughout the food supply.
Like other amino acids such as glutamine and proline, it is a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that the body is usually able to produce it on its own, except during times of illness and stress.
L-taurine is often added to energy drinks for those looking to take advantage of the potential taurine benefits. It’s also widely available in supplement form, and may be beneficial for people at risk for taurine deficiency, including those receiving parenteral nutrition or those with chronic heart, liver or kidney failure.
Studies show that taurine may help reduce the risk of heart disease, thanks to its ability to decrease blood pressure and inflammation. In fact, according to a review published in Amino Acids, animal models suggest that a higher intake could help protect against heart disease and prevent fatty plaque build-up in the arteries.
One study out of Japan found that taking 3 grams daily for seven weeks led to significant reductions in body weight and triglyceride levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. It also decreased the atherogenic index, a measure that is used to predict the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Studies indicate that taurine may help with the regeneration of brain cells, which could be beneficial for the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly enough, research shows that people with Parkinson’s disease were more likely to have lower levels of taurine compared to a control group. Not only that, but lower levels were also associated with increased motor severity.
Although more research is needed on the potential taurine benefits for those with Parkinson’s disease, some research suggests that it could help reduce symptom severity by altering the activity of a specific enzyme involved in mitochondrial function.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. These conditions include high blood pressure, excess belly fat, increased cholesterol or triglyceride levels and high blood sugar.
A 2016 review published in Food & Function analyzed a combination of human and animals studies, and reported that taurine was found to have “an efficient action against metabolic syndrome, which includes reducing triglycerides to prevent obesity, improving insulin resistance to regulate glucose metabolism, lowering cholesterol to prevent diet-induced hypercholesterolemia, and … reduce blood pressure.”
While more research is definitely needed, other research also indicates that it could be beneficial for preventing metabolic syndrome when paired with regular physical activity and a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Taurine acts as an antioxidant, which means that it can help fight harmful free radicals and prevent oxidative stress in the body.
Some research also shows that it could be beneficial in the treatment of periodontal disease, which is a type of gum infection often caused by poor brushing and flossing.
One study conducted at Annamalai University in India found that administering taurine to people with chronic periodontitis reduced oxidative stress in the gums and blood, which could help promote healing and improve oral health.
Many athletes often take a taurine supplement looking to boost physical performance and enhance endurance.
In one study, eight middle-distance runners consumed 1,000 milligrams two hours prior to running, which was found to increase performance by an average of 1.7 percent.
Another study out of Japan showed that taurine supplementation was linked to improvements in strength and endurance, thanks to its ability to act as an antioxidant and protect against exercise-induced DNA damage.
Animal models and human studies have also found that taurine may help prevent muscle injury and increase fat-burning during exercise, both of which can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to boosting athletic performance.
Taurine is naturally found in a variety of meat and dairy products. For most people, this means that if you eat a balanced diet, you probably get all you need. It’s also found in cow’s milk-based infant formula and may be added as a supplement to non-dairy-based infant formula as well.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the typical omnivorous diet provides between 9–400 milligrams of taurine per day. Dietary intake on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is estimated to be about 17 milligrams per day, and many vegan diets are completely lacking in this important amino acid.
However, except during times of extreme illness and stress, the body is able to produce taurine on its own, and some research suggests that the body may excrete less to conserve levels when intake is low as well.
Although it’s often found in sports drinks and supplements, there are plenty of natural sources of this important amino acid available as well. Here are a few of the top taurine sources:
Taurine supplements are available in capsule or powder form. The taurine dosage can vary depending on a number of different factors, but most supplements contain between 500–1,000 milligrams per serving. However, doses up to 3,000 milligrams have been shown to be safe and associated with minimal risk of side effects.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting supplementation if you have any underlying health conditions. Additionally, consider starting with a lower dosage and working your way up to assess your tolerance and prevent adverse effects on health.
Many also recommend using a taurine supplement for dogs or taurine for cats to help prevent complications and improve outcomes for pets diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). However, most pets can meet their needs for this important amino acid through diet alone, so talk to your veterinarian to determine if supplementation is right for your furry friend.
Although it has been deemed as generally safe to consume, it’s important to practice moderation with all supplements to prevent any potential taurine side effects. Consult with your doctor before starting supplementation, and when possible, simply get it through a balanced diet.
When consumed in energy drinks, the potential for taurine danger can increase. Energy drinks have been linked to serious safety issues, leading to the ban of this important amino acid in several countries.
However, it’s unclear whether these health issues could be caused by taurine itself or its combination with caffeine and other potentially harmful ingredients.
While some research in animals suggests that taurine could be beneficial for mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, other studies have found that it could worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder and mania. If you have any mental health conditions, talk to your doctor before starting supplementation.
Supplementation is also not recommended for those with kidney problems, as it could worsen kidney function and exacerbate symptoms. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid use as well, as research is lacking on the healthy and safety of supplementation for these populations.
Finally, taurine may also act as a natural diuretic to increase water excretion from the body. Therefore, it may interfere with certain medications such as lithium, which can decrease its effectiveness.
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