Taurine is an amino acid found in the body, particularly in the heart, brain, eyes, and muscles. Although our bodies can make taurine it can also be consumed in food. A synthetic form of taurine is a key ingredient in supplements and energy drinks such as Red Bull. Some believe that taurine can improve mental capacity and athletic performance.
Although low levels of taurine have been linked to several conditions (including eye diseases and cardiovascular problems), research on the benefits of taurine supplements is limited.
Proponents claim that taurine can improve cognitive function, enhance athletic performance, preserve eyesight, boost heart health, control blood sugar, and increase energy levels. Taurine is also known to act as an antioxidant.
Here’s a look at some key findings from the available research on the health effects of taurine:
Preliminary research suggests that taurine may help combat heart disease, according to a research review from Experimental and Clinical Cardiology. The review’s authors note that taurine may offer a number of cardiovascular benefits such as protection against hardening of the arteries, but caution that more research is needed before taurine supplements can be recommended for the prevention or treatment of any heart condition.
In another study, scientists discovered that taurine supplements may help reduce levels of homocysteine (an amino acid shown to raise heart disease risk when detected at elevated levels). Published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology in 2009, the study involved 22 healthy middle-aged women. After four weeks of taking three grams of taurine in supplement form daily, study participants showed a significant decrease in homocysteine levels.
High Blood Pressure
Taurine may help treat high blood pressure, according to a 2016 study published in Hypertension. For the study, people with prehypertension received either taurine supplementation or a placebo for 12 weeks. Taurine supplementation decreased blood pressure, especially in those with high-normal blood pressure.
Athletic and Mental Performance
Taurine is a common ingredient in energy drinks. While some preliminary studies show that taurine may improve mental performance and increase exercise endurance, overall research on the energy-enhancing effects of taurine is limited.
What’s more, a 2010 report published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine states that the fatigue-fighting effects of energy drinks are most likely due to their caffeine content rather than their taurine content.
Possible Side Effects
Taurine may cause some side effects including itching, nausea, headache, and dizziness.
There have been a number of case reports of adverse effects related to the consumption of energy drinks containing taurine, such as seizures and cardiovascular effects.
In a case report, a 19-year-old man developed a skin condition known as erythema multiforme. A drink containing taurine was believed to be the cause.
There is also a reported case of a body builder suffering brain damage after consuming 14 grams of taurine with insulin and anabolic steroids. It is not known if the brain damage was due to the taurine or the other drugs taken.
There is also some concern that taking taurine can make symptoms of bipolar disorder worse.
If you notice any serious side effects while taking taurine supplements, it’s important to discontinue your use of taurine.
Supplements haven’t been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.
Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.
Dosage and Preparation
First isolated from ox bile, the name taurine is derived from the Latin word for ox or bull, “taurus.” Despite the myth that taurine is derived from bull sperm, the form of taurine in beverages and most supplements is a synthetic form—meaning that is is made in a laboratory. The main food sources of taurine are meat, fish, and dairy.
A safe or effective dose of taurine has not been determined. Amounts that have been used in clinical trials range from 1.5-6 grams of taurine per day in two or three divided doses (for congestive heart failure) and 1.5-4 grams of taurine daily for up to 3 months (for hepatitis).
What to Look For
Since taurine is often used in energy drinks, it is important to consider all of your current medications, herbal supplements, and possible health conditions before consuming the beverages. Just because theses products are sold on store shelves does not mean that they are safe or effective for everyone to use.
Taurine is also sold in capsule form in health food stores and online. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises consumers to check the product label before consuming supplements. Look for the Supplement Facts label to get information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).
Lastly, the NIH suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product’s safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.
Although taurine may offer some beneficial health effects, self-treating an existing health problem with taurine supplements and avoiding doctor-prescribed care can have serious consequences. If you’re considering the use of taurine supplements for a chronic condition, consult your doctor to determine a safe and effective dosage.