Taurine is a naturally occurring sulfur-containing amino acid. It’s particularly concentrated in your brain, eyes, heart, and muscles
Although amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of protein, taurine isn’t used to build proteins in your body. Instead, it’s considered a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning it becomes essential only in times of illness and stress
A small amount of taurine is produced in the liver from the metabolism of cysteine (which is derived from the essential amino acid methionine).
Taurine can also be obtained directly from certain foods like beef and dark meat poultry, but most abundantly from shellfish such as scallops and mussels.
Taurine is considered a conditionally essential nutrient. Because it can be produced in the body, the average adult doesn’t need to be concerned about overt symptoms of a taurine deficiency.
However, low plasma taurine levels are associated with various conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
In accordance with its ubiquitous presence in the body, taurine has diverse physiological functions. It is renowned as a cell-protecting agent and is involved in osmoregulation, modulation of mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum stress, cell membrane stabilization, conjugation of bile acids, calcium homeostasis, energy metabolism, neuromodulation, and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions.
What are taurine’s main benefits?
Interest in taurine primarily stems from its potential beneficial effects on athletic performance and cardiovascular risk factors.
Taurine was first used to treat heart failure patients and demonstrated the ability to improve symptoms — as evidenced by improved cardiac output and stroke volume — which spurred research to determine whether it elicited other cardioprotective effects.
More recent evidence demonstrates that taurine modestly reduces blood pressure, and it seems to be more effective in people with prehypertension or hypertension. Taurine may also reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Taurine is a common component of energy drinks, which have been shown to enhance various aspects of physical performance such as endurance exercise performance.
However, energy drinks also contain caffeine, among other ingredients, so it is unclear how much of their benefit can be attributed to taurine.
Because taurine levels are much higher in type I than type II muscle fibers, most studies have investigated whether taurine supplementation improves endurance exercise performance.
Taurine appears to have a small positive effect on time to exhaustion in both untrained healthy people and older adults with heart failure.
In contrast, taurine does not seem to benefit from time trial performance.
- May fight diabetes
Taurine’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may enhance insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes or improving blood sugar management in those with the condition
- May improve heart health
Taurine supplements have been shown to regulate blood pressure and improve heart function and blood fat levels in people with heart conditions such as heart failure. At high levels, it may even protect against heart disease
- May boost exercise performance
Because of its ability to enhance muscle contraction and delay muscle fatigue, taurine may benefit athletic performance by
- increased oxygen uptake by the body
- increased time to fatigue
- reduced muscle damage
- improved recovery times
- improved strength and power
What are taurine’s main drawbacks?
Serious adverse effects have not been reported with taurine supplementation.
Based on the available evidence, it’s suggested that 3 grams per day can be consumed indefinitely without risk of side effects.
Still, some people have reported side effects after taking taurine, including
- liver pain
- stomach pain
How does taurine work?
Most of the taurine’s benefits are thought to derive from its role as a cell-protecting agent; it regulates cell volume, calcium homeostasis, and membrane stabilization and exerts antioxidant effects.
The primary mechanism by which taurine acts as an antioxidant is unclear. Taurine may have the ability to directly scavenge free radicals, but it’s more likely that taurine works by regulating antioxidant enzymes and inhibiting the generation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species.
Taurine may have cardioprotective effects by decreasing oxidative stress and a few other mechanisms. It can modify blood lipids by binding to bile acids and facilitating the breakdown and excretion of cholesterol.
Additionally, it reduces blood pressure by enhancing vasodilation (i.e. relaxation of blood vessels, leading to an increase in blood flow).
Muscle contraction is triggered by the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Taurine may improve physical performance by increasing the calcium-storing ability of the sarcoplasmic reticulum, as well as increasing the sensitivity of force-generating proteins (i.e., actin and myosin) to calcium, thus increasing muscle force.
Sources of taurine
The main sources of taurine are animal proteins such as meat, seafood, and dairy. Plants contain no appreciable amount of taurine.
Consequently, people eating a vegan or vegetarian diet consume less taurine. They tend to have lower taurine levels than those who regularly eat animal proteins.
Even so, taurine deficiency is unlikely. This is thanks to your body’s ability to make taurine in your liver from other amino acids.
In addition to getting taurine from food, you can get it from some energy drinks. These typically provide around 750 mg per 8-ounce (237-mL) serving
Functions in your body
Taurine is found in several organs and has widespread benefits.
The main roles of taurine in your body are
- maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance in your cells
- forming bile salts, which play an important role in digestion
- regulating minerals such as calcium within your cells
- supporting the general function of your central nervous system and eyes
- regulating immune system health and antioxidant function
Because taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid, a healthy adult’s body can produce the minimal amount required for these essential daily functions.
However, your body may need larger amounts in times of illness or stress. This may be the case in people with heart or kidney failure and in premature infants who have been fed intravenously.