L-taurine, also referred to simply as taurine, is a non-essential amino acid. It is considered non-essential because adults can produce taurine, and it is found in meat, fish and dairy products. According to Dr. Elson M. Haas in his 1992 book "Staying Healthy with Nutrition," if not enough taurine is produced in your body nor consumed in your diet, supplementation may be required. Taurine has a role in dozens of your bodily functions and is beneficial in both healthy and diseased states.
Taurine plays an important role in many aspects of your cardiovascular system. This amino acid helps to move key nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, in and out of your heart's cells to improve its functioning. Low levels of taurine have been found in patients who suffered a heart attack. Haas discusses the use of taurine in Japan for sufferers of ischemic heart disease. Multiple daily doses of taurine improved cardiac function in patients suffering from a variety of chronic heart conditions, such as arrhythmia, congestive heart failure and heart attacks.
Taurine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which can act as a sedative for excitable brain states, according to Haas. The sedative effect can be useful to prevent seizures in epileptics and to minimize manic states if you suffer from bipolar disorder, according to Haas.
The results of a study by Yutaka Nakaya of the Tokushima University School of Medicine and a team of researchers in Japan, published in 2000 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition", demonstrate the role of taurine in the dilation of the vascular system. Taurine supplementation can increase secretion of nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels and improves blood flow and delivery of oxygen to your muscles.
Taurine can lower your cholesterol by improving gallbladder function which can then eliminate cholesterol through bile, according to Haas. The results of the study by Nakaya and his team provide evidence for this role--the taurine supplementation reduced liver and blood cholesterol levels in the treated group.
Taurine functions as a "potent" antioxidant, according to Nakaya's study. Free radicals attack cells in your body and can cause chronic conditions such as cancer, eye disease, and possibly diabetes. Taurine can help to protect your body from free radical damage, as noted by both Nakaya and Haas.
Haas mentions that other benefits of taurine include treatment for male infertility, cirrhosis and depression. Additionally, the results of the Nakaya team's study suggest taurine supplementation may be beneficial if you suffer from type 2 diabetes.
According to the results of the study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," taurine supplementation causes no serious side effects, which supports the results of similar studies reviewed by Nakaya and the Japanese team. Additionally, a 2009 press release from the European Food Safety Authority confirms that levels of taurine as high as 1,000 mg per kilogram of body weight per day will not cause you harm. This press release came after the EFSA's panel reviewed taurine levels found in energy drinks and reported them to have no harmful effects. However, Haas mentions that taurine toxicity may cause you to experience diarrhea or peptic ulcers, but what constitutes toxic levels is not addressed.