Taurine is a type of amino acid found in many foods and is often added to energy drinks.
Many people take taurine as a supplement, and some researchers refer to it as a “wonder molecule”.
Taurine has been shown to have several health benefits, such as a lower risk of disease and improved sports performance.
It is also very safe and has no known side effects when taken in reasonable doses.
This article explains everything you need to know about taurine.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino sulfonic acid that occurs naturally in your body. It is particularly concentrated in your brain, eyes, heart, and muscles.
Unlike most other amino acids, it is not used to build proteins. Rather, it is classified as a conditionally essential amino acid.
Your body can produce taurine, and it is also found in some foods. However, certain individuals — such as those with specific illnesses like heart disease or diabetes — may benefit from taking a supplement.
Despite common belief, this amino acid is not extracted from bull urine or bull semen. The name is derived from the Latin word Taurus, which means ox or bull — so that may be the source of the confusion.
Summary: Taurine is classified as a conditionally essential amino acid. It serves various important functions in your body.
Sources of taurine
The main sources of taurine are animal foods, such as meat, fish, and dairy.
Although some processed vegetarian foods contain added taurine, it is unlikely that these will offer sufficient quantities to optimize your levels.
Taurine is also often added to soda and energy drinks — which may provide 600–1,000 mg in a single 8-ounce (237-ml) serving.
However, it is not recommended to drink soda or energy drinks in high amounts due to other ingredients that may be harmful.
Because the form of taurine used in supplements and energy drinks is usually made synthetically — not derived from animals — it is suitable for vegans.
An average diet provides about 40–400 mg of taurine per day, but studies have used 400–6,000 mg per day.
Summary: The main dietary sources of taurine are animal foods, such as meat, fish, and dairy. Smaller amounts occur in some plant foods. It is also added to many energy drinks.
Taurine’s functions in your body
Taurine, found in several organs, has widespread benefits.
Its direct roles include:
- 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
Since it’s a conditionally essential amino acid, a healthy individual can produce the minimal amount required for these essential daily functions.
However, higher amounts may be required in rare cases, making taurine essential for some people — such as those with heart or kidney failure, as well as premature infants that have been fed intravenously.
When a deficiency occurs during fetal development, serious symptoms like impaired brain function and poor blood sugar control have been observed.
Summary: Taurine plays many important roles in your body. Although extremely rare, deficiency is linked to several serious health issues.
Taurine may fight diabetes
Taurine may improve blood sugar control and combat diabetes.
Long-term supplementing decreased fasting blood sugar levels in diabetic rats — without any changes in diet or exercise.
Fasting blood sugar levels are very important for health, as high levels are a key factor in type 2 diabetes and many other chronic diseases.
Some animal research suggests that an increased intake of taurine could help prevent type 2 diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
Suggested read: 10 important types of magnesium and their benefits
Interestingly, people with diabetes tend to have lower levels of taurine — another indicator that it may play a role in this disease.
That said, more research is needed in this area.
Summary: Taurine may benefit people with diabetes, potentially lowering blood sugar levels and improving various risk factors for heart disease. However, further studies are needed before any claims can be made.
Taurine may improve heart health
Taurine may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research shows a link between higher taurine levels and significantly lower rates of death from heart disease, as well as reduced cholesterol and blood pressure.
Taurine may help reduce high blood pressure by decreasing the resistance to blood flow in your blood vessel walls. It may also minimize nerve impulses in your brain that increase blood pressure.
In a two-week study in people with diabetes, taurine supplements significantly reduced artery stiffness — potentially making it easier for the heart to pump blood around the body.
In another study on overweight people, 3 grams of taurine per day for seven weeks reduced body weight and improved several heart disease risk factors.
Additionally, supplementing has been found to reduce inflammation and artery thickening. When combined, these effects may drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.
Summary: Taurine may reduce your risk of heart disease by improving several key risk factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.
Taurine may boost exercise performance
Taurine may also have benefits for athletic performance.
In animal studies, taurine caused muscles to work harder and for longer and increased the muscles’ ability to contract and produce force. In mice, it reduced fatigue and muscle damage during a workout.
In human studies, taurine has been shown to remove waste products that lead to fatigue and cause muscle burn. It also protects muscles from cell damage and oxidative stress.
Suggested read: Glutamine: Benefits, uses and side effects
What’s more, it increases fat burning during exercise.
Human studies indicate that trained athletes who supplement with taurine experience improved exercise performance. Cyclists and runners have been able to cover longer distances with less fatigue.
Another study supports this amino acid’s role in reducing muscle damage. Participants placed on a muscle-damaging weightlifting routine experienced fewer markers of damage and less muscle soreness.
In addition to these performance benefits, taurine may aid weight loss by increasing your body’s use of fat for fuel. In cyclists, supplementing with 1.66 grams of taurine increased fat burning by 16%.
Summary: Taurine plays several important roles in your muscles and may aid various aspects of exercise performance by reducing fatigue, increasing fat burning, and decreasing muscle damage.
Other health benefits of taurine
Taurine has a surprisingly wide range of potential health benefits.
It may improve various other functions in your body, such as eyesight and hearing in certain populations.
In one human study, 12% of participants supplementing with taurine eliminated ringing in their ears, which is associated with hearing loss.
Taurine is also present in large quantities in your eyes, with research showing that eye problems may occur when these levels start to decline. Increased concentrations are believed to optimize eyesight and eye health.
Because it helps regulate muscle contractions, taurine may reduce seizures and help treat conditions such as epilepsy.
It appears to work by binding to your brain’s GABA receptors, which play a key role in controlling and calming your central nervous system.
Finally, it can protect liver cells against free radical and toxin damage. In one study, 2 grams of taurine taken three times per day reduced markers of liver damage while decreasing oxidative stress.
However, more research is needed on most of these benefits.
Summary: Taurine has a wide range of potential health benefits, from reduced seizures to improved eyesight.
Side effects and safety concerns of taurine
According to the best available evidence, taurine has no negative side effects when used in the recommended amounts.
While there have been no direct issues from taurine supplements, athlete deaths in Europe have been linked to energy drinks containing taurine and caffeine. This has led several countries to ban or limit the sale of taurine.
Suggested read: Essential amino acids: Definition, benefits and food sources
However, these deaths may have been caused by the large doses of caffeine or some other substances the athletes were taking.
As with most amino-acid-based supplements, issues could potentially arise in people with kidney problems.
Summary: When consumed in reasonable amounts by a healthy individual, taurine does not have any known side effects.
How to supplement taurine
The most common dosages of taurine are 500–2,000 mg per day.
However, the upper limit for toxicity is much higher — even doses above 2,000 mg seem to be well tolerated.
Research on the safety of taurine suggests that up to 3,000 mg per day for an entire lifetime is still safe.
While some studies may use a higher dose for short periods, 3,000 mg per day will help you maximize the benefits while staying within a safe range.
The easiest and most cost-effective method to achieve this is through powder or tablet supplements, which can cost as little as $6 for 50 doses.
While you can obtain taurine naturally from meat, dairy and fish, most people will not consume enough to meet the doses used in the studies discussed above.
Summary: Supplementing with 500–3,000 mg of taurine per day is known to be effective, cheap, and safe.
Some researchers call taurine a “wonder molecule” because few supplements provide as many potential health and performance benefits.
Whether you want to improve your health or optimize your sports performance, taurine can be a very cost-effective and safe addition to your supplement regimen.
You can find many different products online, though remember that you can also obtain some taurine from animal products.