By Dr. Mercola
You’ve probably heard about taurine supplements from fitness enthusiasts, particularly those who like spending a lot of time in the gym. You might have even seen advertisements of energy drinks with taurine as an ingredient. But what exactly does taurine do, and should you supplement with it? Learn all the important details about taurine in this article: its benefits, uses, food sources and what to consider before taking this supplement.
What Is Taurine?
A type of amino acid, specifically an amino sulfonic acid, taurine or l-taurine is a chemical that is a necessary building block of protein. It is the most plentiful amino acid in the body, and is found in high amounts in the brain, heart, retina and blood platelets.1 This amino acid has multiple roles in the body, such as aiding in the movement of minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium in and out of your cells.2
So what is taurine made of, or rather, where does it come from? Contrary to what many people believe, taurine, which is named after the Latin word for ox or bull, “taurus,”3 is not extracted from the urine or semen of this animal. Rather, it was actually first discovered in the bile of bulls, hence the name.4
In fact, taurine is naturally found in your body. It is a “conditional” amino acid – this means that your body is able to produce it. This is in contrast to essential amino acids, which are not made in the body, and must be acquired from the diet.5 Taurine is actually made from two other amino acids, namely methionine and cysteine.6
How Your Body Uses Taurine
Taurine is good for you, especially if you have optimal levels of it in your body. It actually has a crucial role in many aspects of good health, such as your heart health, cognitive function, vision and hearing, to name a few.7 Here are some of its primary roles in your body function:8,9,10
• Helps maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance in your cells
• Helps regulate minerals like calcium in your cells
• Essential in the formation of bile salts, which is need for digestion
• Supports your overall central nervous system function, as well as your macular health
• Regulates your immune system health and antioxidant function
If you are optimally healthy, then your body can produce enough taurine to meet your daily needs. However, there are instances when a person’s body do not or cannot produce sufficient taurine due to certain reasons.
Why Do Some People Have Insufficient Taurine in Their Body?
There are many factors that can play a role in poor taurine levels in the body. For example, people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may not have enough of this amino acid in their system. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and liver, kidney or heart failure can also deplete the body’s taurine. Other factors that can affect taurine deficiency include:11
• Low levels of cysteine and methionine, as well as an enzyme called cysteinsulfinic decarboxylase
• Being deficient in vitamin A, zinc and pyridoxal-5-phosphate, which is an active form of vitamin B6
• Excessive intake of foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can degrade taurine
• Having a Candida infection. This condition produces an amino acid called beta-alanine, which then competes with taurine for reabsorption in the kidney. This causes taurine to be excreted through your urine
Aging is also a factor, as your taurine production can slow down as you age. If you’re in your senior years or if you meet any of the criteria mentioned above, you may be prone to taurine deficiency.12
Keep an Eye Out for These Taurine Deficiency Symptoms
The reason why taurine deficiency can be difficult to pinpoint is because its symptoms are quite similar to other disorders. Here are some potential signs of this amino acid deficiency:13
• Vision problems — You need adequate amounts of taurine for your retina’s proper functioning.
• Hypertension — Taurine actually plays a role on the health of your blood vessels and heart.
• Problems with endurance and recovery after workouts — Taurine is essential in improving performance and endurance.
• Depression and anxiety — This amino acid plays a role in cognitive function, so having insufficient levels may lead to depressive and anxious symptoms.
• Weight gain — It actually supports the body in metabolizing fat to be used as an energy source.
If you are struggling with any of these symptoms, consider optimizing the levels of taurine in your body. One way to do this is by loading up on foods that are rich in this amino acid. The best dietary sources of taurine are protein-rich foods. Pastured eggs, raw grass fed milk, fish (Wild Alaskan salmon, sardines and anchovies are your best bets), grass fed meats and other mercury-free seafood are examples of foods that are high in taurine.14
Benefits of Taurine
The health benefits of taurine are far-reaching. Here are some of the potential advantages you can get from this amino acid:
• Improved heart health —Taurine has been found to help reduce inflammation and arterial thickening. Studies also found a link between having high taurine levels and reduced bad cholesterol and blood pressure levels, as well as low death rates.15
• Better vision health — There’s a large concentration of taurine in the eyes, so insufficient levels may play a role in macular decline. By increasing taurine intake, you may help improve your eyesight.16
• May be beneficial for diabetics — This amino acid may help improve blood sugar control among people with diabetes. There’s also research saying that getting increased amounts may even reduce blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.17
• Relieve anxiety and stress — Taurine can bind to the GABA receptors found in the brain, which are essential in controlling and calming your central nervous system.18
• May prevent hearing loss — One study found that taurine helped eliminate ringing in the participants’ ears (tinnitus), which has been linked to hearing loss.19
Perhaps the most well-known benefit of taurine is its supposed ability to improve athletic performance – one reason why manufacturers are adding this to their products.
Exercise Performance and Taurine: What Do The Studies Say?
Taurine supplements have been linked to fitness, and there are studies that support the claims that it may benefit athletic and workout performance.
One study published in the journal Amino Acids,20 which examined 11 men ages 18 to 20, found that taking a taurine supplement for seven days before their workout had increased VO2max (the body’s ability to transport and use oxygen) and longer training periods before feeling exhaustion. The Japanese researchers who conducted the study, believed it was taurine’s antioxidant and cell-protecting properties that helped provide these benefits.21
Taurine’s ability in helping reduce muscle damage has also been noted. In a separate study, it was found that participants who took taurine before a muscle-damaging weight lifting workout had reduced soreness and markers of muscle damage compared to those who were given a placebo.22 This amino acid may have a benefit for people who want to manage their weight. Cyclists who supplemented with 1.66 grams of taurine were found to have a 16 percent increase in fat burning, which may help with weight loss.23
Taurine Dosage Guidelines
There are no set guidelines on how much taurine you should take to achieve its potential benefits. However, taking anywhere from 500 to 2,000 milligrams has shown efficacy among many people. The upper limit, however, is much higher than this.24 Remember that if you want to get enough taurine, you should ideally optimize your food intake first then opt for a safe supplement, if that is not possible. Never rely on getting taurine from sports drinks and other energy drinks.
The reason is that these beverages typically contain high amounts of caffeine, sugar or fructose and other unhealthy ingredients that can have a severe effect on your wellbeing. Caffeine in energy drinks actually range anywhere from 80 to 300 milligrams per can, and has been blamed for side effects, such as nervousness, seizures, jitteriness, cardiac arrhythmias and even death.25
Potential Side Effects of Taurine Supplementation
For healthy individuals, taurine is typically safe to use, as long as ingested within the recommended dosage. Nevertheless, you should be cautious of taking taurine if you are suffering from any type of health problem and/or if you are taking any medication.26
There is a report of a bodybuilder who suffered from brain damage after taking about 14 grams of taurine with anabolic steroids and insulin – however, it is not certain if the effect was caused by taurine or the other drugs ingested.27 There’s also insufficient data about taking taurine during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, so consult your physician before taking this or any type of supplement.
Although taking a taurine supplement may seem like a practical solution, keep in mind that there are food choices of taurine that you can rely on, so your first course of action should be to naturally optimize your taurine levels through dietary changes. Remember, there’s no supplement on earth that can take the place of a healthy and well-balanced diet.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Taurine
Q: Is taurine an amino acid?
A: Yes, taurine is an amino acid, specifically an amino sulfonic acid. It’s the most plentiful amino acid in the body, and is commonly found in large amounts in the retina, brain, heart and blood platelets.
Q: Where does taurine come from?
A: Taurine is made from two other amino acids: methionine and cysteine. It’s actually classified as a conditional amino acid, meaning that it can be produced by your body (as opposed to essential amino acids, which need to be obtained from foods and other sources).
Q: Do people need taurine? What does it do to the body?
A: Yes, taurine is essential for a healthy, well-functioning body, and having a deficiency in this nutrient can actually produce a number of symptoms. Some of its roles include:
• Regulating immune system function
• Helping maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance in your cells
• Essential in the formation of bile salts needed for digestion
• Supporting your overall central nervous system and macular health
Q: Is taurine bad for you?
A: No, taurine is not bad for you. It actually plays an essential role in your body, such as helping move minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium in and out of your cells.
Q: Why is taurine in energy drinks?
A: Because of taurine’s potential to increase athletic performance and help ease stress and anxiety, it has become a popular ingredient in energy drinks. There have been repercussions linked to taurine in energy drinks, but these effects actually come from the high amounts of caffeine and other unhealthy additives in these beverages, and not because of the taurine. Thus, it’s wise to avoid these sports drinks and instead to get taurine ideally from food sources or secondarily from a safe supplement.
Q: Is taurine a stimulant?
A: While taurine is often added to “stimulant drinks,” it is not energy-giving per se. Rather, it actually controls and calms your central nervous system. Instead, taurine’s effects on athletic performance are rooted in its ability to reduce muscle damage, fatigue and soreness, while promoting weight loss by promoting the use of fat as fuel.