Taurine is an amino acid found in cells of the brain, retina, heart, and reproductive organs. It is also abundant in meat and seafood. It is a key ingredient in popular “energy drinks,” contributing to the increasing intake of taurine by modern individuals.
Taurine is considered a semi-essential amino acid in mammals, indicating its significant metabolic role in the body. Research has shown that taurine deficiency in animals leads to retinal dysfunction, and it also holds various important physiological functions in the human body that warrant extensive exploration, particularly in the field of preventive medicine.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid (2-aminoethanesulfonic acid) primarily produced by the liver and kidneys. It is found in high concentrations in the retina, brain, heart, and placenta. Taurine serves various physiological functions, including the regulation of calcium concentration, neural transmission, and osmotic regulation.
It is one of the most abundant amino acids in the brain, retina, and muscle tissues. Deficiency of taurine is associated with myocardial diseases, kidney dysfunction, developmental abnormalities, and severe damage to retinal neurons.
Taurine is present in all eye tissues and plays a critical role in the development of photoreceptor cells. It also acts as a cellular protective nutrient, preventing stress-related neuronal damage and other pathological conditions. Additionally, research suggests that taurine may play a supporting role in managing epilepsy and diabetes, as well as aiding in sleep-wake disorders, neural tube defects, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, the regulatory functions and biochemical mechanisms of taurine continue to be subjects of ongoing research and analysis.
4 Major Benefits of Taurine
1. Heart Function Protection
Taurine has been shown to regulate protein kinases and phosphatases within cardiac cells. By modulating the activity of calcium ion transport proteins and the sensitivity of muscle fibers to calcium ions, taurine helps maintain normal heart contraction.
A clinical study administering 500 mg taurine supplementation to heart failure patients three times daily for two weeks demonstrated significant enhancement of post-exercise physical functions, improved myocardial function, reduced myocardial oxygen consumption, and enhanced hemodynamic indices. Taurine intake also significantly improved hypertension in animals with a four-week oral supplementation regimen.
2. Enhancing Mental Alertness and Exercise Endurance
Taurine is a popular nutritional supplement among athletes to improve exercise performance. Studies indicate that daily supplementation of 1-3 g taurine can enhance aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance and post-exercise recovery.
Clinical research involving heart failure patients receiving 500 mg taurine supplementation three times daily for two weeks observed increased exercise time, distance, and metabolism, leading to improved physical performance. Another clinical study focused on pre-exercise taurine intake demonstrated extended time to exhaustion and enhanced endurance performance during a longer series of fixed-intensity exercises.
3. Improving Diabetes and Lipid Profile
Recent research suggests potential benefits of taurine for type 1 diabetes patients, reducing organ lipid peroxidation and blood lipid concentrations. For type 2 diabetes patients, taurine supplementation has been found to effectively improve insulin resistance.
An integrated study consolidating over ten relevant research papers concluded that taurine could enhance fasting and postprandial blood glucose, insulin concentration, insulin resistance, pancreatic β-cell function, and insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, taurine supplementation can help lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), showcasing its ability to improve blood glucose status and lipid abnormalities.
4. Maintaining Visual Health
Taurine is associated with retinal degenerative diseases. An animal experiment administering taurine to diabetic animals while observing retinal changes revealed significant prevention of damage to retinal cone cells and ganglion cells. Taurine was found to protect retinal cells from diabetes-related effects, reducing optic nerve damage and retinal cell apoptosis, thus assisting in preventing diabetes-induced retinal pathologies.
Which foods contain taurine?
Generally, taurine is primarily found in meats, seafood, and dairy products. Infants can obtain taurine from breast milk as well as commercially available infant formula containing taurine. It is estimated that under normal dietary conditions, daily taurine intake ranges from approximately 9 to 400 milligrams. However, individuals who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may not be able to obtain taurine from their diet.
What is the safe intake of taurine?
The U.S. FDA considers taurine to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS), but there is currently no established recommended intake level for taurine. Clinical studies have shown that healthy adults consuming 3,000 milligrams of taurine daily for 7 or 12 weeks did not experience any adverse reactions. There have been no reports of serious adverse reactions even with daily intake of up to 10 grams of taurine. Therefore, research supports the safety of supplementing up to 3 grams of taurine daily.
In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated that based on existing data on human taurine consumption, daily supplementation of 3-6 grams of taurine over the course of one year would not have adverse effects on health. Additionally, Health Canada issued guidelines in 2012 regarding caffeinated energy drinks, indicating that the maximum daily allowable limit for added taurine in such beverages is 3,000 milligrams.
What are the side effects of taurine?
As mentioned earlier, taurine is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) because relevant studies have not identified adverse effects from taurine supplementation. Research indicates that taurine is absorbed in the small intestine of both animals and humans, and excess taurine is primarily eliminated through renal excretion, without significant accumulation in the body. Therefore, adverse effects are not expected when taurine is consumed in appropriate amounts.
However, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have other medical conditions, it is advisable to consult with your physician or a registered dietitian before considering taurine supplementation.