Taurine is an amino acid that occurs naturally within the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The body uses proteins to grow and repair tissues.
Taurine occurs naturally in certain foods, such as meat and fish. It is also an added ingredient in some energy drinks.
Some people also take taurine as a dietary supplement. Taurine is popular in the health community for its potential to help stimulate metabolism. Some early research also suggests that taurine has additional benefits in the body, such as protecting the brain, heart, and immune system.
However, anyone considering taking taurine as a dietary supplement should talk to their doctor beforehand. Research into the potential benefits and risks of taurine is still in its early stages.
This article outlines the current research on the potential benefits and risks of taurine.
Taurine is vital for a person's overall health. It is one of the most abundant amino acids in the muscle tissue, brain, and many other organs in the body.
Taurine plays a role in several essential body functions, such as:
- regulating calcium levels in certain cells
- creating bile salts
- balancing electrolytes in the body
- supporting the development of the nervous system
As a 2012 review notes, a lack of taurine in the body may lead to a range of health complications, including:
- kidney dysfunction
- developmental disorders
- damage to eye tissues
- cardiomyopathy, which is a significant risk factor for heart failure
Supplementing with taurine or getting plenty of taurine from dietary sources may have specific effects on the body. These effects may include:
Promoting healthy metabolism
Taurine plays an essential role in metabolism and digestion, as it helps the liver to create bile salts. Bile salts help break down fatty acids in the intestines.
Bile acids are the body's main way of breaking down cholesterol. Each day, an adult breaks down about 500mg of cholesterol and converts it to bile. To do this, it needs specific amino acids, such as taurine.
Protecting the eyes
According to a 2014 review, taurine is the most plentiful amino acid in the retina of the eye and helps protect against retinal degeneration.
The review also states that reduced amounts of taurine may play a role in eye disorders, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. The research suggests that doctors should consider taurine as a potential treatment for these conditions. However, scientists have yet to conduct the necessary clinical trials.
Protecting the heart
Scientists have identified a link between a lack of taurine and cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a condition that causes the heart to work harder than it should. It is a major risk factor for congestive heart failure.
A 2014 review indicates that taurine helped slow the progression of atherosclerosis in animals. Atherosclerosis refers to a buildup of fatty deposits or plaque within the arteries due to high cholesterol levels. This condition is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke.
A 2017 study investigated the effects of taurine supplements and exercise in people with heart failure. People who exercised before and after taking taurine for 2 weeks showed lower levels of blood cholesterol and inflammation, compared to those who took a placebo.
Protecting the muscles
The muscles contain high levels of taurine. It helps to ensure proper muscle function and protects against muscle damage.
Protecting against brain aging
Taurine may have a protective effect on the brain. As a 2017 review posted to Brain Defects Research notes, taurine supplementation works to promote healthy long-term memory storage.
According to the review, the amount of taurine in the brain decreases with age. Taurine supplementation may help to maintain these levels across the lifespan. Some scientists believe that this could fend off certain age-related neurodegenerative conditions.
Mice that received the taurine showed improvements in Alzheimer-like learning and memory deficits. Further research is necessary to determine whether these same benefits apply to humans.
Protecting against neurological conditions
Animal studies have consistently shown that taurine helps alleviate symptoms of neurotoxicity and neurological impairment in rodents. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to confirm whether taurine helps to protect against specific neurological conditions in humans.
Improving exercise performance
Though there is limited research in the area, taurine may boost exercise performance in some people.
A 2013 study investigated whether taurine supplementation would improve exercise performance in trained runners.
Eight male runners took part in the study, which involved a 3km time trial on two separate occasions. Each participant took a taurine supplement on one occasion, and a placebo pill on the other.
Time trial performances were significantly better after taking taurine compared to placebo. Overall, the runners in the taurine condition saw a 1.7%improvement in their time.
However, taurine ingestion did not significantly affect heart rate, oxygen uptake, or concentrations of lactic acid in the blood. As such, it is still not clear how taurine improves exercise performance.
Improving markers of diabetes
A 2012 animal study investigated the effects of taurine on glucose and fat metabolism in diabetic rats. Rats that were fed a taurine-supplemented diet for 12 weeks showed the following improvements compared to rats that received the placebo:
- reduced glucose levels
- improved insulin resistance
- reduced cholesterol levels
However, further research is necessary to determine whether taurine provides the same benefits in humans with diabetes.
In general, energy drinks that contain taurine also tend to contain high amounts of sugar. A diet that is high in sugar is damaging to health.
Most energy drinks also contain a large dose of caffeine. As such, excessive consumption of energy drinks can result in caffeine intoxication (CI). This can result in the following:
- fast resting heart rate, or tachycardia
- irregular heartbeat, or cardiac arrhythmia
Energy drinks also tend to combine caffeine with other supplements, many of which have no known safety profile.
According to a 2012 review, the adverse health effects of energy drinks may be particularly severe in teenagers and young adults.
However, it is important to note that taurine may help to counteract some of the adverse health effects of caffeine. A 2014 review article concluded that taurine might protect against the cardiovascular effects of drinking too much caffeine in adults. However, further research is necessary to confirm that this is the case.
Taurine plays a vital role in several essential body functions.
Research into the potential benefits of taurine supplementation is still in its early stages, and most studies involve animals. Researchers must carry out high quality human studies to establish how taurine may affect human health.
Nonetheless, taurine supplementation does not appear to cause any significant side effects. However, anyone who is considering taking taurine should talk to their doctor for guidance, and to check for any possible drug interactions.