Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is conditionally essential, a term used to describe nutrients that your body is capable of making but can only be obtained from diet under certain conditions. For example, taurine has to be provided in infant formula if the babies are not breastfed because they are not able to make taurine. Adults can make taurine in the liver from the amino acids cysteine and methionine with the help of vitamin B-6. But unlike other amino acids, taurine is not incorporated into proteins. Rather, it serves distinct physiological functions.
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Functions of Taurine
The word "taurine" comes from the Latin word Taurus, which means bull. Taurine was first isolated from the ox bile and is essential for the synthesis of bile acid, which aids in intestinal digestion of fats. Taurine is important for the normal physiological functions of the heart, brain and the retina in the eye. It is also required for reproduction and immunity.
Taurine deficiency can lead to abnormal development of the brain, kidney and retina, and impairs cardiovascular function, according to a review published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology in 2006. Taurine deficiency is implicated in diseases such as epilepsy, migraine and ischemic stroke. In addition to your own body production, you can get taurine from food such as fish and meat and supplements.
Uses of Taurine Supplement
The Office of Dietary Supplements stated that taurine is an anti-epileptic and anti-arrhythmic agent, protecting the brain from over-excitation and the heart from ischemic damage. Taurine supplement is often used to improve exercise performance because of taurine is involved in energy storage and cardiac function. A review published in November 2006 issue of Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care suggested that taurine supplement can be used as an antioxidant and may protect against cardiovascular disease and degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. For diabetics, taurine supplement may lower blood glucose and reduce the need for insulin therapy, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Check with your doctor before taking taurine supplements.
Taurine and Energy Drinks
Taurine is often added to energy drinks and promoted as an agent that improves exercise performance and overall wellbeing, stated in a review published in Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Review in 2003. However, the report of three people in Sweden who died after drinking Red Bull, an energy drink that mix taurine with caffeine, raises the concern over the safety of the energy drinks, especially when combining with alcohol or after exercise. These energy drinks also tend to dehydrate the body. Although the link between taurine or the energy drinks and death is still not clear, it is prudent not to drink them together with alcohol and before or after strenuous exercise.
- The Office of Dietary Supplements Conference Publications; Is There a Role for Taurine Supplementation in the Management of Diabetes?
- Vanderbilt University; Taurine + Energy Drinks: Meant to Be or Doomed?; September 2006
- Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Review; Taurine: new implications for an old amino acid; August 2003
- Google Books; Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, Vol. 583; 2006
- Pubmed.gov; Is Taurine a Functional Nutrient?; November 2006