Taurine is essential for cardiovascular function, and plays an important role in the metabolism of the human body as well as in growth and development. Although commonly referred to as an amino acid, strictly speaking it is not a true amino acid but is in fact a naturally occurring sulfonic acid.
Taurine is found in both the nervous system and muscles, and researchers believe it helps regulate heartbeat and maintain cell membranes. They also think it plays a role in the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemicals that deliver signals between nerve cells.
How does the body get taurine?
Unlike an "essential amino acid", which cannot be produced by the body, taurine can be produced by the body, so it is sometimes referred to as a "conditional amino acid".
Taurine is found in meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and fish, so including these foods in your diet will mean you have an adequate supply of taurine. Deficiencies are not typical but can sometimes occur in vegetarians or vegans. The body can make its own taurine if it has a source of methionine and cysteine, which can be found in pulses and nuts, and vitamin B6, which is found in vegetables, whole cereals and soya beans. Eating a balanced diet is the best way to ensure your body gets enough taurine.
Why is a taurine supplement taken?
A taurine supplement may be added to infant formula milk for babies who are not breast-feeding as their bodies are not developed enough to make their own taurine. It is important for preterm infants with immature kidneys, where low levels of taurine could lead to a poor development outcome.
A taurine supplement is sometimes taken for certain medical conditions. However, before taking taurine to help with medical conditions is it important to seek medical advice. Taurine may be helpful for:
- Congestive heart failure: There is some evidence suggesting that taurine could be helpful in treating congestive heart failure, where it helped to improve the symptoms of breathlessness, fluid build-up and heart palpitations. However, this is a serious condition that requires treatment by qualified health-care providers. Consult your doctor before taking a supplement.
- Hepatitis: A research study indicated that taking a taurine supplement may help improve the liver functions of people with viral hepatitis.
Claims have been made that taurine has other health benefits, but those claims have yet to be substantiated by research.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), advisors to the European Union on food safety issues, asked a panel of experts to provide a scientific opinion on certain health claims made about taurine. Based on the data available, the panel found that the consumption of taurine:
- Does not provide protection of DNA, proteins or lipids from oxidative damage
- Does not delay the onset of fatigue
- Does not enhance physical performance
- Has no effect on "the normal energy-yielding metabolism"
- Does not contribute to normal cognitive function
- Does not maintain normal cardiac function
- Does not maintain normal muscle function
- Does not provide immune system protection