Taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid. The term “conditionally essential” means that, under normal circumstances, the body can produce it endogenously. It is also found in specific foods and supplements and is a common ingredient in energy drinks.
This article explores the current research on taurine, its potential benefits, side effects, and more. Read on for our complete guide.
Uses and Benefits
Taurine is one of the only amino acids that our bodies do not incorporate into proteins. However, it is abundant throughout our cells, especially in the brain, heart, skeletal muscle, and retina.
It has a range of crucial functions, including:
- Protecting cells via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity
- Regulating energy and lipid metabolism
- Maintaining calcium balance
- Controlling cell volume by regulating fluid movement
- Regulating gene expression and protein production
Some experts also believe that taurine acts as a neurotransmitter, affecting cell receptors in the central nervous system.
It interacts with GABA, glycine, and NMDA receptors, producing mild inhibitory effects. It also appears to play a vital role in neuronal development in both embryonic and adult brains.
Taurine in Human Health and Disease
Many scientists believe that taurine could play a role in maintaining health and preventing disease. Indeed, there is some scientific evidence to support this view, although human clinical trials are few and far between.
Below, we will explore the most promising areas of study and some of the potential benefits of taurine.
Athletic Performance and Recovery
One of taurine’s most common uses is as an ingredient in energy drinks and workout supplements. Proponents believe it has several benefits, such as enhancing performance, reducing fatigue, and mitigating muscle damage.
The results of a 2021 review support these views, at least to some extent. It found that taurine improved aerobic and anaerobic performance in several studies. However, the supplement’s success depended largely on the dosage, timing, and duration of treatment.
Possible mechanisms include increasing exercise tolerance by improving blood flow and metabolism and reducing post-exercise oxidative damage in muscles.
Taurine appears to have a protective influence over cells throughout the brain and central nervous system. One way in which it exerts these effects is by countering the impact of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.
It is widely accepted that excessive glutamate levels can cause neuroinflammation and damage nerve cells in the brain. This process is associated with several neurological conditions, including strokes and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases.
By combating glutamate’s harmful effects, taurine could reduce the impact of several common and debilitating conditions.
Therefore, by combating glutamate’s harmful effects, taurine could reduce the impact of these common and debilitating conditions.
Research has also shown that it could prevent stroke-like episodes in a rare genetic disorder called mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS).
Finally, it could be beneficial for developmental disorders, seizures, and retinal damage. However, further study is required in these areas to confirm taurine’s precise effects.
The amino acid also appears to protect the cardiovascular system. This is due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory activity, combined with its influence on muscle contractions, including cardiac muscle.
Therefore, it could be helpful in the treatment of several cardiovascular conditions. For example, it is approved as a medication for congestive heart failure in Japan. Research on pre-hypertensive individuals has also shown that it could reduce blood pressure significantly.
Other possible benefits for heart health include:
- Improving lipid metabolism to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease
- Protecting against ischemic reperfusion injury
- Preventing myocardial arrhythmias
Taurine is often found alongside caffeine in energy drinks. It is well known that excessive caffeine intake affects the cardiovascular system, causing side effects such as rapid heart rate. Some scientists have speculated that taurine could mitigate these effects, although further research is required.
Taurine may help treat several other chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, mitochondrial disease, and Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. However, research in these areas is sparse, and the science behind these benefits is mainly theoretical at present.
Finally, there is a high concentration of taurine in white blood cells, suggesting it influences immunity. A taurine derivative, taurolidine, is used in Europe and the United States as an adjunctive treatment for infections and tumors.
Taurine is generally well-tolerated, and there are few reports of adverse reactions. However, animal studies suggest that taking large doses over a long period could increase fear responses and pain sensitivity.
There is currently no evidence that these taurine side effects also affect humans.
Taurine could lower blood pressure, potentially increasing the effects of antihypertensive drugs.
Some experts also believe that ACE inhibitors, used to treat heart failure, may interact with taurine. However, the precise mechanisms and effects of this interaction are unclear.
Individuals considering adding taurine to their existing medication should seek medical advice first and carefully monitor any changes.
There is no standard taurine dosage, and the amount required will depend upon several factors. General health, body weight, and the reason for using it all play a significant role.
Research has shown that adults can take relatively large doses (up to 6g daily) for up to six months without any adverse effects. However, this is far more than most people need, and research studies tend to involve doses of 1–3g.
Taurine occurs naturally in some foods, especially seafood, meat, and poultry. Eggs and dairy products also contain some taurine. The average non-vegetarian adult consumes approximately 40–400mg from food sources daily.
Many energy drinks contain taurine but also have large amounts of sugar, caffeine, and other additives.
As we mentioned earlier, it is also a common ingredient in energy drinks. Different brands contain varying amounts per serving, ranging from 1000mg (Red Bull) to 3000mg (Rockstar). However, these products also contain large amounts of sugar, caffeine, and other additives. Therefore, they are not a healthy consumption method.
Anyone wishing to increase their intake more beneficially could consider a taurine supplement. Capsules and powders are widely available. However, consumers should research the options carefully before purchasing to ensure they get a safe and reliable product.
Final Thoughts on Taurine
Taurine is an amino acid with many crucial functions in the body. It is classified as “conditionally essential” because we can synthesize it endogenously. However, some people choose to take supplements to increase their taurine levels.
Although it has a broad range of potential benefits, human research on taurine is lacking. Therefore, individuals should consult a medical professional before use to ensure it is suitable for them.