The Many Benefits of Taurine – Part 1
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What is Taurine?
Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid, which is essential for carnivores (such as cats) but is only “conditionally essential” for humans and other primates. Conditionally essential means that it only becomes essential when we are ill or under undue stress.
High levels of this amino acid are found primarily in our brain, eyes, heart and muscles, indicating that these are areas where taurine is most required. Taurine was first isolated from ox bile in 1827 leading to its name, from the latin for ox: Bos taurus.
Some is found in foods and some is produced in the pancreas from the amino acid cysteine. And, because the body can produce taurine, modern medicine believes that taurine deficiency is not common in healthy people. This may be true, but when half of us die from heart disease and a quarter from cancer, and when diabetes and hypertension are widespread, I would suggest that taurine is worth a closer look.
(Infants cannot make taurine efficiently so they do require it be provided in the mother’s milk, or from formula fortified with taurine.)
Taurine in Food
It is especially difficult for vegetarians to get enough taurine since it is found in animal foods but not in plant foods. The foods highest in taurine are shellfish, especially clams, mussels, and scallops. Next up is the dark meat from chicken and turkey, followed by lower levels found in fish and muscle meat.
Adult non-vegetarians are estimated to receive somewhere between 40 and 400 mg of taurine daily from the diet, though on average most people skew towards the lower end of the scale. Which is why we are looking at this subject.
Here is what one study determined when analyzing the taurine content of foods: “The highest concentration of taurine was found in crustaceans and molluses (300-800 mg per 100 g edible portion). The amount of taurine in fish was variable. Beef, pork and lamb contained taurine in concentrations ranging from 30-160 mg per 100 g. No taurine was detected in hen eggs and plants.” (Source)
What Does Taurine Do?
Taurine has a major role in the following functions:
- Maintaining electrolyte balance in the cells
- Maintaining proper hydration (the process of replacing water in the body)
- Forming bile salts, which are essential for digesting fat and protein
- Supporting the central nervous system
- Eye health
- Regulating the immune system
Furthermore, animal studies have shown taurine deficiency to lead to diabetes, eye damage, liver disease and muscular weakness. Also, an increased need for taurine has been found in humans with heart or kidney failure, which is no surprise as it has been established that we need much more taurine during illness. However, the point here is that aside from the functions listed above, it is apparent that taurine is also of great benefit to the heart, kidneys, liver, muscles, and for insulin regulation.
Now, let’s have a closer look at some of the science relating taurine to health issues and general well being.
Studies have found that those with diabetes have a much lower storage of taurine than those without diabetes, leading to the idea that taurine might have a role in managing diabetes. These observations led to studies like this one: “Taurine treatment performed well against oxidative stress in the brain, increased the secretion of required hormones and protected against neuropathy, retinopathy and nephropathy in diabetes compared with the control.” (Source)
Supplementing with taurine has been shown to protect agains heart disease, even at a dose as low as 500 mg, three times daily. It does this by regulating blood pressure, improving heart function, and improving blood fat levels.
“Taurine can improve lipid profile, lower BP, and act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammation agent, suggesting great potential of taurine in improving the profile of cardiovascular risk factors and reducing occurrences of cardiovascular disease.” (Source)
Taurine is now commonly used among athletes, and for good reason: it is believed to reduce muscle fatigue and damage, as well as improve strength and recovery time.
“From the selected literature, we observed that taurine supplementation (2 g three times daily) with exercise can decrease DNA damage. Furthermore, 1 g of acute taurine administration before or after exercise can decrease lactate levels. However, acute administration of taurine (6 g) at a high dose before the start of exercise had no effect on reducing lactate level, but increased glycerol levels, suggesting that taurine could be an effective agent for prolonged activities, particularly at higher intensities. Finally, we observed that a low dose of taurine (0.05 g) before performing strength enhancing exercises can decrease muscular fatigue and increase enzymatic antioxidants.” (Source)
Hearing and Vision
Taurine is present in high concentrations in the retina of all species so it clearly has to be of benefit for eye health. It is believed that the antioxidant effects taurine provides may work to reduce the oxidative damage associated with retinal diseases such as macular degeneration. “Specifically, it has been established that visual dysfunction in both human and animal subjects results from taurine deficiency. Moreover, the deficiency is reversed with simple nutritional supplementation with taurine.” (Source)
With regards to hearing, taurine helps prevent the hair cells within the ear from becoming damaged, which is a key factor in hearing loss.
“New insights on the neuromodulatory effects of taurine on auditory neurons suggest the use of this aminosulfonic acid to reduce the degeneration of auditory neurons in sensorineural hearing loss. Consecutively, a new therapeutical approach for the therapy of hearing impairment could be discussed.” (Source)
Taurine appears to offer many neuroprotective effects. The anti-inflammatory effects of taurine reduce inflammation within the brain and have been shown to fight neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“Taurine supplements in cognitive impairment of different physiologies, pathologies and toxicologies have been demonstrated to significantly improve and restore cognition in most cases.” (Source)
“Taurine displays potential ameliorating effects against different neurological disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases, stroke, epilepsy and diabetic neuropathy and protects against injuries and toxicities of the nervous system. Several findings demonstrate its therapeutic role against neurodevelopmental disorders, including Angelman syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, sleep-wake disorders, neural tube defects and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.” (Source)
Seeing that ADHD was included in conditions that benefited from taurine, it crossed my mind to see if it could possibly be helpful for other severe brain issues such as schizophrenia. And, indeed it can be very helpful: “These findings also suggest that taurine protects against schizophrenia through neurochemical modulations, neurotrophic enhancement, and inhibition of neuropathologic cytokine activities.” (Source)
Taurine has protective effects against chronic and acute liver injury, and even helps with other health issues that can accompany liver dysregulation.
“In the present study, taurine was administered to detect the protective effect and mechanism of taurine in AFB1-induced liver injury in rats…The results showed that taurine can reverse AFB1-induced liver injury and abnormal apoptosis through activation of the Nrf2 signalling pathway and its downstream antioxidant enzymes, which further protects mitochondria from oxidative stress and the subsequent apoptotic pathway.” (Source)(In this study, AFB1 refers to a form of aflatoxin, a micotoxin found in many common foods.)
Furthermore, “in patients with liver dysregulation, taurine supplementation can lower blood pressure and improve the lipid profile by reducing total cholesterol and triglyceride levels”. (Source)
From a medical point of view, taurine has no negative side effects “when supplemented appropriately”.
One 2019 report suggests that the highest daily dose of taurine you can safely consume is 3 grams per day. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggested in its 2012 guidelines that you can safely take up to 6 grams per day. (Source)
In Part 2 we will examine how taurine can help us live longer, even if we are in apparently good health.