Health Benefits of Taurine
Taurine is an amino acid found naturally in the body. Unlike many other amino acids, it is not incorporated into longer protein chains and it is not considered one of the essential amino acids in humans. This is because taurine can be synthesized in the body, through a process involving vitamin B6 and another amino acid called cysteine.
Taurine has been of interest to scientists for some years, as it has been discovered to have a unique structure. Experts have therefore theorized that it seems likely taurine may play some very important roles in the body. In supplement form it tends to be particularly popular among weight lifters and other individuals undergoing strenuous physical activity, but there is some evidence to suggest that taurine’s impact on the body could be far more wide-reaching.
Benefits of Taurine
Taurine is found throughout the human body, but seems to be present in high concentrations in very specific parts of the body. Firstly, high levels are found in muscle fibre, which suggests it may prove to be important for athletic function. Secondly, scientists have noted that high concentrations of taurine tend to be found in major organs such as the heart and kidneys.
But what are the specific benefits of taurine for our health?
The creation of free radicals is a normal part of metabolism, and it has been proposed that the high levels of taurine seen in key organs may play an important antioxidant role, helping to protect the body from these potentially damaging molecules.
A study involving 36 volunteers provided them either with a taurine supplement, a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement or a mixture of the two. These supplements were taken for a two week period before undergoing a resistance training routine.
Thereafter supplementation was continued for a further three days, before subjects reported on any muscle soreness experienced. The results showed that the combination of BCAAs with 2g of taurine, taken three times a day, helped to reduce muscle damage after exercise and the subsequent soreness experienced.
Another similar experiment also sought to assess the impact of taurine on post-exercise muscle soreness and recovery. Taurine supplementation was carefully timed, being provided either half an hour before exercise, immediately afterward or twice a day for a period of four days post exercise.
The first surprise was that no difference in muscle soreness was experienced whether taurine was taken before or straight after exercise. More interestingly, however, muscle soreness was considerably reduced by those individuals taking the supplement for longer periods of time after exercise. The scientists concluded that the key here is taking taurine regularly after exercise for maximum impact, and that it could reduce muscle soreness and damage “when ingested on recovery days”.
Improved Exercise Performance
It is known that intense bouts of exercise can increase oxidative stress in the body. This increase in free radicals has the potential to damage cells of the body, and even DNA. It is believed that this activity plays a part in all manner of health conditions, and even in the science of aging, so finding ways to limit the negative impact of free radicals is of great interest to scientists.
It has been suggested that taurine may play a role here, and that the reduced muscle soreness many people experience after supplementing with taurine may be related to these antioxidant properties. Indeed, one study claimed that by limiting oxidative stress in this way, muscle fibres may be positively impacted, leading to higher performance.
A study aiming to address this hypothesis gave one half of their volunteers a taurine supplement every day for a week, while the other half acted as a control. They then underwent an intense cycling challenge, where they were asked to continue until they could go no further. The taurine group showed significant increases in the time it took to reach exhaustion and also demonstrated a higher output of power.
At the same time, the scientists found that signs of oxidative stress were fewer in those individuals taking taurine. The results suggest that “taurine may attenuate exercise-induced DNA damage and enhance the capacity of exercise”.
Maintenance of Healthy Cholesterol Levels
A group of volunteers was provided either with 3 grams of taurine per day or a placebo pill for a period of seven weeks. At the end of the study, the participants had their “atherogenic index” (AI) values calculated. AI is a medical test which considers the ratio of different cholesterols in the body, and is considered an accurate prediction of future cardiovascular problems.
The taurine group saw a significant decline in this metric, whilst individuals on the placebo saw no such change. Interestingly, the taurine group was also found to have reduced body weight. The scientists claim that these results indicate that taurine “may have an important role in cardiovascular disease prevention”.
In another study, a group of male volunteers were deliberately fed a high cholesterol diet for three weeks, together with either a taurine supplement or a placebo. Samples were taken throughout in order to monitor their cholesterol levels. The interesting finding was that while cholesterol levels rose in the placebo group, the same pattern was not reflected in those individuals taking the taurine. It therefore seems that taurine may positively impact cholesterol levels, and so could offer some protection against cardiovascular complications.
Protection of the Nervous System
Your body exists in an ongoing state of flux, with molecules and cells continually in transit. For example, when we consume food it is rapidly broken down into smaller units, which are then transported around the body to the target site that requires them. At the same time, other elements are eliminated from the body in an ongoing process of regeneration.
Homeostasis is the name scientists give to the maintenance the correct balance under such conditions.
There is evidence to suggest that taurine may play an important role here, particularly with regards to the nervous system.
In order for messages to pass from one nerve to another, chemicals known as “neurotransmitters” are utilized. You can think of them rather like a postman, carefully transporting a message from one place to another. The most common of these in the human body is known as glutamate. What is interesting is the impact that glutamate can have on nerve cells.
Studies suggest that when neurons come into contact with glutamate they lose the ability to regulate their levels of calcium. This can have serious impacts if it weren’t for the presence of taurine. Studies suggest that once nerves have been stimulated by glutamate they start to release taurine. This taurine, in turn, helps to regulate the level of calcium entering or leaving the cell. As a result, homeostasis is maintained and nerve cells are protected from damage.
Heart Function Support
Some experts have suggested that taurine’s ability to control calcium transport may also play a part in its ability to support muscle function, particularly with regards to the heart. This may further supplement its seeming ability to impact cholesterol levels in the body, helping to provide further benefits to those at risk of cardiovascular conditions.
This theory is supported by a study from Osaka. 14 patients with congestive heart failure were supplemented with taurine alongside their conventional treatment for a period of four weeks. The Japanese doctors found that taurine significantly improved heart function when compared to those individuals not receiving the supplement.
Furthermore, while a number of patients receiving just the standard treatment showed worsening symptoms, none of the taurine group showed any decline. The experts suggested that their findings indicate “that the addition of taurine to conventional therapy is safe and effective for the treatment of patients with congestive heart failure”.
Taurine and Cats
While taurine is a non-essential amino acid in humans, things are very different for felines. Cats seem unable to produce this nutrient, and taurine deficiencies can lead to significant problems. In adult cats, for example, a lack of taurine in the diet leads to retinal changes which, if advanced enough, can lead to blindness.
Health problems may be even more severe in nursing cats and their kittens. Not only have scientists found that reduced taurine levels can significantly reduce breeding success in cats, but furthermore the young of such cats, if they survive, tend to develop neurological problems.
For this reason it is crucial that pet cats are provided with suitable levels of taurine in their diet. Many commercially-available cat foods are now fortified with taurine, or a number of taurine supplements are available from specialist retailers.
Dietary Sources of Taurine
It is possible to ensure you are getting enough taurine through a balanced diet. High levels of taurine tend to be found in animal-based foods such as fish and meat, so these should be a key feature of your diet if taurine levels are a concern. For individuals wanting to increase their intake significantly, such as with a view to boosting exercise performance, taurine is also available in supplement form.
Note, however, that as taurine is not available from plant-based sources, even supplement forms of taurine are generally not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Indeed, scientists have noted that vegans tend to have particularly low levels of taurine in their bodies, though as yet it is not clear whether this leads to any unforeseen medical problems.
How Much Should I Take?
There is currently no official recommendation for how much taurine we should be consuming for maximum impact. Most scientific studies which have demonstrated positive results have tended to use relatively high concentrations of some 2-5 grams of taurine per day. Note that excess taurine is generally not stored in the body, and is instead excreted. This means that toxic build-ups are unlikely.
Studies of taurine in humans are still in their infancy, and very few studies have been made regarding its long-term safety. As a result, it is recommended that pregnant women avoid using taurine supplements. Young children should receive enough taurine naturally when breastfed, as the body’s ability to produce taurine is not yet fully functional at young ages. For this reason, some infant formulas and baby foods are fortified with taurine.
In studies of healthy adults no serious complications have been found. It is important to underline, however, that long-term studies have not yet been carried out.
There is some evidence to suggest that taurine may interact negatively with lithium. In any case, you are recommended to speak to your doctor before starting to take any new supplement, as they can provide you with guidance on safety, and any potential interactions with our ongoing medication regime.
Taurine is a naturally-occurring amino acid, and scientists are only just starting to scratch the surface of what it does for the body. Research to date suggests that it may boost exercise output, assist with recovery and positively influence the cardiovascular system. While it is possible to get enough taurine thanks to a balanced diet including suitable levels of lean meat, some people opt to supplement in order to ensure optimum levels. Taurine supplements tend to be particularly popular in fitness circles, where it is believed to support effective performance.