People often question what is taurine or what is taurine made of. If you are a gym enthusiast, you may have heard about taurine supplements. Many energy drinks contain this ingredient. It is a popular belief that taurine comes from bull urine or semen. But in reality, it is a myth. Taurine is a conditional amino acid and naturally produced inside the body.
Let’s understand in detail what is taurine? Also, find out if it really comes from bull urine or semen? Read on to find out.
What is taurine?
Taurine (2-aminoethanesulfonic acid) is a conditional amino acid, which means it is naturally produced in the body. It is a lesser known amino acid because it is not into the structural building blocks of protein.
Taurine is abundant in the brain, heart, breast, gallbladder, and kidney and is essential for the health of these organs. It is involved in many crucial physiological processes including modulation of calcium flux and neuron excitability, osmoregulation, detoxification and membrane stabilization (1).
It is also used to treat a variety of diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypercholesterolemia, epilepsy, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, hepatic disorder, alcoholism and cystic fibrosis (2).
Is taurine harmful?
Contrary to popular belief, Taurine is not extracted from the urine or semen of bulls. Its name is derived from the Latin word ‘Taurus,’ which means bull. Taurine was isolated from the bull bile in 1827 which may be the reason for this popular myth.
Taurine is naturally found in our body. The primary sources of this conditional amino acid are meat, fish and dairy products (3). An average diet can provide 40 to 400 mg of taurine per day. It can also be synthesized in our body from cysteine when vitamin B6 is present.
Taurine is also added to energy drinks which may contain up to 1000 mg in an eight-ounce serving. However, one should avoid energy drinks as they also contain other ingredients like caffeine in high amounts, which can have adverse effects (4).
According to research, more than 5000 people go sick from energy drinks between 2010 and 2013. According to a study, drinking 32 ounces of these drinks is harmful to heart and blood pressure (5).
Uses of taurine in the body
Taurine plays a crucial role in many aspects of our health. Here are some of its primary functions in the body –
- It maintains proper hydration and electrolyte balance in the cells (6).
- It is essential for regulating minerals like calcium in the cells (6).
- It helps form bile salts which are essential for the digestive process (6).
- It supports the overall central nervous system function and macular health (7).
- It regulates your immune system and antioxidant function (8).
A healthy person can produce enough taurine for these daily functions. However, people with heart or kidney failure or premature infants may need supplements to take care of their daily needs (9).
Health benefits of taurine
1. Improves heart health
Taurine can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Many studies have shown that taurine exerts preventive effects on cardiovascular disease as it helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure (10).
According to studies, taurine supplementation of 6 grams per day for seven days resulted in a decrease in blood pressure of these patients (11).
It also helps improve the function of the left ventricle of the heart and calms the nervous system.
Taurine also helps reduce arterial stiffness. According to a study on type 1 diabetics, two weeks of taurine supplementation decreased arterial stiffness, which makes it easier for the heart to pump blood in the body (12).
Some studies also suggest that taurine can improve cardiac function in patients with heart failure (13).
2. Improves athletic performance
Taurine supplementation can improve athletic performance in many ways.
According to many animal-based studies, taurine treatment reduces physical fatigue and muscle damage during exercise training in rats. This may be due to its antioxidant properties and improvement in muscle and cardiac function (14).
Taurine helps muscles work harder and for a longer duration. It also protects muscles from oxidative stress (15).
During one trial, when researchers gave trained athletes taurine supplements, it improved their performance. They were able to complete a long distance with less fatigue (16).
3. Supports brain function
Taurine can delay age-related cognitive decline. Some studies have also shown that it helps with the regeneration of brain cells.
According to studies, patients with Parkinson’s have low levels of taurine. Researchers have discovered that taurine can increase the growth of brain cells by activating sleeping stem cells.
Laboratory studies have also revealed dramatic improvements in cognition and memory in taurine-supplemented animals and suggest that human supplementation might slow or reverse changes seen in Parkinson’s disease (17).
4. Reduces metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease which has become a serious public health concern.
5. Periodontal disease
Periodontal disease refers to infection of the structures around the teeth, which includes gums, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone. Taurine can improve the condition of patients with periodontitis.
During a study, the patients of periodontitis were observed to evaluate the antioxidant property in taurine and to evaluate if taurine can assist in the healing process.
Researchers found that taurine enhances the levels of lipid peroxidation products and the antioxidant enzymes and thus helps in the healing process (19).
6. Promotes glucose control
Researchers have observed that taurine concentrations are lower in patients with diabetes when compared to healthy men and women.
Fortunately, supplementation with 1.5 grams of taurine per day for 14 weeks can improve the levels of taurine in the body. It helps reduce blood glucose levels and restores insulin sensitivity.
Some animal studies have also shown that supplementation with taurine is effective against diabetic complications as well (20).
7. Improves eye health
Adequate levels of taurine in the body help prevent age-related macular degeneration and other problems with vision.
Taurine is found in large amounts in the retina, but it declines with age (21). Taurine in the eye helps fight oxidative stress and helps restore the deficient levels of nerve growth factor required for retinal health.
Certain drugs and medications can also deplete the levels of taurine in the retina. These include chemotherapy and anti-epilatory drugs. Taurine supplementation can bring the levels back to normal and protect the retina.
8. Fights obesity
Taurine is effective in reducing body weight. During one study, thirty college students were given 3 grams of taurine per day for seven weeks. Researchers noticed a beneficial effect on their lipid metabolism and they also saw a significant amount of weight loss (22).
Various animal studies also support the anti-obesity and lipid-lowering capabilities of taurine.
9. Can reduce stress
Taurine can bind with the GABA receptors in the brain, which are known to calm your central nervous system. Taurine can also protect you from the fight-or-flight response and post-stress anxiety by slowing down the release of adrenaline.
According to a 2007 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, taurine supplements induced anti-anxiety effects in the animal maze and staircase tests.
10. May prevent hearing loss
Our ears can get damaged when the nerve cells that convert sounds waves into electrical energy get damaged. The nerve cells depend on the flow of calcium into and out of them.
Taurine helps to control the flow of calcium in the hearing cells of the ear. So taurine is vital to prevent progressive hearing loss.
One study also found that taurine can prevent ringing in the ears of people, which is linked to hearing loss (23).
Food sources of taurine
Do you know what is taurine content in foods like meat, fish, and dairy, which are the primary sources of taurine? Some vegetarian foods also provide taurine, but they are not sufficient for the body. Here are some foods and their taurine content –
- Meat and poultry – 11 to 306 mg per 100 grams
- Seafood – 11 to 827 mg per 100 grams
- Dairy products – 2 to 8 mg per 100 ml
- Breast milk and infant formula – 4 to 7 mg per 100 ml
Taurine supplements of up to 3000 mg per day are considered safe.
Side effects of taurine
Taurine is considered safe to use as long as you take the recommended dosage. It is also better to get your taurine from a well-balanced diet.
However, if you are suffering from any significant health problem and are taking medication for it, it is safer to check with your doctor before taking such supplements.
There has been one case of brain damage in a bodybuilder you took taurine supplements along with insulin and steroids. However, scientists have not confirmed if it was the taurine or the combination that lead to the brain damage.
People with kidney problems should be careful about taking amino-acid based supplements as this could lead to health issues (24).
Final words on what is taurine
By now, you must an answer to the question what is taurine. Taurine is a conditional amino acid, which can be created in the body. It plays many vital roles in the body like hydration and electrolyte balance in the cells.
It also supports the central nervous system and improves macular health. Meat, fish, and dairy are the primary sources of taurine, though you can get it in the form of supplements as well.
Avoid having drinks that contain taurine as they have other ingredients like caffeine in high amounts, which are harmful to health.