Amino acids are the components of proteins. These amino acids are strung together like the links on a chain, where they form the proteins that make our bodies work properly. There are a few exceptions to this rule, amino acids that perform their function individually, not as components of proteins.
-Taurine is one such amino acid. In fact, taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body.
What does taurine do?
Taurine is a non-essential amino acid produced by the body through the synthesis of two other amino acids, methionine and cysteine. It is an important component of bile acids, which are used to absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. It also regulates heartbeat; maintains the stability of cell membranes; transports calcium in and out of cells; and regulates the activity of brain cells. It is also a potent antioxidant.
Taurine is believed to play a role in treating a number of conditions, including congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, and retinal damage.
Normally our bodies manufacture taurine rather than obtain it from our diet. It is produced by a combination of cysteine, methionine and vitamin C, but low amounts of these substances can in turn lead to taurine deficiency.
Can we get taurine from food?
Taurine is found in eggs, dairy products, fish and red meat. If you’re a vegetarian you probably suffer from a taurine deficiency … and if you’re a meat eater, it’s unlikely that you’re taurine deficient. But as we age we may not produce an optimal amount of taurine … and research has shown that it’s definitely worth taking a taurine supplement—regardless of your diet—because our need for taurine can often exceed our normal dietary intake or our body’s ability to manufacture it. And taurine has tremendous health benefits when you get more than what your body normally needs to prevent a deficiency.
Much of the impetus for this research has been based on the discovery that cats require a dietary source of taurine, or they develop dramatic health problems including reproductive failure, growth retardation, retinal degeneration and heart failure. In fact, taurine is so important to the health of felines that it is now added to cat food to ensure their health and longevity. While this has been a tremendous help in enhancing the health of our cats, there are many reasons why we want to make sure we are getting extra amounts of taurine every day.
A powerful antioxidant
Taurine is an important antioxidant in the body, and especially high amounts are found in the retina of the eye.1 Deficiencies of taurine are known to cause retinal lesions and visual deterioration, which can be reversed with dietary taurine.
In a 1975 study, a diet deficient in taurine was associated with retinal degeneration in cats.2
Protects against macular degeneration
Taurine is believed to enhance the rods and cones—the pigmented epithelial cells in the retina of the eye that serve as visual receptor cells. The greatest visual acuity occurs in the macular area of the retina near where the optic nerve enters from the back of the eye. As we age, the macula commonly degenerates as rods and cones die, which can result in blindness. The cause of the degeneration is unclear, but it occurs more commonly in diabetics and may be the result of free radical damage from ultraviolet light or oxygen exposure.3
Your heart beats more than 2 billion times in your lifetime, transporting blood and oxygen to your body’s various systems. One consequence of aging can be heart failure, a decreased ability of the heart to pump out all of the blood that flows into it. Research has shown that in humans taurine enhances the contractile strength of heart muscle and is believed to help prevent heart failure.45
In a 1984 animal study, taurine protected against heart failure, reducing mortality by 80 percent in the taurine-treated group with no diminishment of cardiac function.6 In a later animal study in 1988, taurine was shown to lower blood pressure.7
Taurine has also been shown to prevent the development of atherosclerosis in animals with elevated cholesterol levels.8
Helps protect normal brain activity
Large amounts of taurine are also found in the brain. Recent in- vitro research has shown that among its brain-specific roles, taurine helps prevent the damaging oxidation of certain neurotransmitters implicated in Parkinsons disease9, in addition to its already established neuroprotective roles.10
Improves glucose tolerance
One of the negative consequences of our “sugar laden” modern diets is the harmful effects of excess fructose. In animals, high fructose diets are known to cause a diabetes-like syndrome and dramatically lower antioxidant levels and glucose tolerance. Supplements of taurine have been shown to effectively counter this in laboratory animals.11 Taurine works by increasing the action of insulin, improving glucose tolerance and enhancing antioxidant levels12—which are important functions to balance the negative effects of high sugar diets.
Decreases risk of muscle damage
Large amounts of taurine are also found in muscle, where it is believed to play an essential role. Taurine has shown the ability to lower muscle damage from intense exercise, and improve performance.13 Exercise depletes the muscles of taurine14, making supplementation essential for anyone concerned with getting the maximum benefit from their exercise program.
Enhance your health with taurine supplementation
Although there is no set required daily allowance for taurine, a good multinutrient supplement will contain 250mg per daily dose.
There is overwhelming evidence, however, based on the research that’s been done, that all of us could benefit from increasing our taurine intake to 500-2000mg per day.
So, do what our feline friends do. Add taurine to your daily nutritional supplement regimen. You may not gain nine lives … but you might just gain health benefits that you wouldn’t want to pass up in this lifetime.