Did You Know?
Taurine is named after the Latin word 'taurus', meaning bull or ox, because it was first isolated from ox bile in 1827, by German scientists Friedrich Tiedemann and Leopold Gmelin.
Taurine or l-taurine is generally referred as a non-essential or semi-essential amino acid. This is because, the human body has the ability to synthesize this organic acid. However, infants are unable to produce taurine, but they obtain it from the breast milk of the lactating mother. It has been found that breastfed infants have better taurine levels than their formula-fed counterparts. Scientific studies have also shown that a taurine rich diet helps in brain and eye development. Therefore, it is added to infant formulas. It plays a vital role in the functioning of the nervous and the musculoskeletal system, and is a major constituent of bile.
Though it is considered as an amino acid, it does not contain a carboxyl group, unlike other amino acids. It is actually a derivative of the amino acid cysteine, which contains sulfur. Therefore, it is often cited as a sulfur containing amino acid or as an amino sulfonic acid. Today, it is an essential ingredient in many energy drinks. It is also available in the form of dietary supplements, which are used by a large number of athletes and body builders, to increase their level of energy and muscle mass. With the exponential increases in its consumption, many questions have been raised about its safety and effectiveness.
Benefits of Taurine
It plays many vital roles in our body. It is an important compound that ensures smooth functioning of the skeletal muscles, and aids neurological development. It is also thought to have antioxidant properties and detoxifying effects. It takes part in the metabolism of bile acids. Being a component of bile acid, it facilitates the digestion of fats. Animal studies have revealed that it can remove fatty liver deposits in rats, which in turn, can prevent liver disease and cirrhosis. It is also beneficial for controlling the level of blood pressure. Even people with atherosclerosis, edema, cardiovascular, and heart disease can benefit from taurine. It is very important for the heart muscles, and may prove effective for stabilizing the heart rhythm, and lowering the level of serum cholesterol. Apart from these, this organic acid helps to regulate the level of water and mineral salts in the body, and strengthen the immune system.
Risks Related to Taurine Consumption
It can be produced by our body, and it is also abundantly found in foods like, meat, seafood, fish and eggs. As long as we consume a sufficient amount of these foods, there is no need to supplement the body with this amino acid. However, vegetarians might experience a deficiency of this organic acid, as it is not found in plants. Excessive intake of supplements is usually not considered to be good for health. As far as dangers of it are concerned, no significant side effects have been reported by the studies conducted in this regard.
Generally, if supplemental taurine does not exceed the value of 2,000 mg, it is considered as safe for both children and adults. If it is taken in excess amount, it is excreted through the urine. Till now, not much is known about its dangers, especially in case of its prolonged and excessive use. However, some people have expressed their concern about the overuse of synthetic taurine, and studies conducted in this regard have reported that synthetic taurine may have an association with diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, and seizures. Moreover, one case of encephalopathy has been reported in a body builder, who took a large dose of it along with insulin and steroids. However, it is not clear, whether this adverse effect on the brain was caused by taurine or the other medications.
The effects of taurine supplementation on pregnant and breastfeeding women are not known accurately. So, they should stay away from over-ingestion of taurine in order to avoid its side effects, if any. To avoid the possible dangers of this amino acid, be sure to consult your physician prior to taking the supplements. Another important point is to buy taurine supplements only from a reputed manufacturer. Lastly, it is always better to rely on a healthy diet to get all the essential nutrients required for maintaining your health and vigor, rather than resorting to supplements.