Taurine • What is it & how does it work?

Author: Monika Preuk, medical writer
Last updated: June 28, 2021

The organic acid in energy drinks is said to make you as strong as a bull. But the effect of taurine is controversial. However, the substance fulfills various functions in the body that are essential for muscles and the brain. The most important facts about taurine, what it can do and what amounts you need every day.

Taurine is best known for energy drinks, which often contain the substance. Together with high amounts of caffeine, the amino acid taurine is said to stimulate and mobilize unimagined reserves of strength. On the other hand, there have already been deaths among adolescents who had consumed a particularly large number of energy drinks. So what is it about taurine – how healthy or how dangerous is it actually?

Article content at a glance:

Ten foods with taurine

What is taurine?

Taurine does not come from bull testicles, even if it is often claimed. The organic acid was first filtered out of bull bile in the 19th century. This is why chemists called the substance from the bile acid taurine, after the Greek word tauros for bull. However, taurine is not an amino acid, but a breakdown product of the amino acids cysteine ​​and methionine. Vitamin B6 is also important in the synthesis of taurine.

The human body produces bile acid and thus taurine itself. In addition, the organism receives taurine from many natural foods, especially from meat. With both sources – production in the liver and ingestion with food – you get an average of at least 500 milligrams of taurine per day. This covers the daily requirement.

However, those who do not eat meat, such as vegetarians and vegans, could run into a taurine deficiency. Because fruits and vegetables do not contain taurine. Vegetarians are therefore dependent on the amount of taurine that their liver makes. However, there are no studies on when a taurine deficiency threatens, what consequences the undersupply has and whether an external supply of taurine-containing foods is therefore indispensable. The amount of self-produced taurine is probably sufficient for the amino acid derivative to be able to fulfill its functions in the body.

Effects of taurine

Taurine has various functions in the body. The most important are:

  • Taurine stabilizes the Cell membranes and regulates the fluid balance of the cells.

  • The component of bile acid plays a role in the transmission of stimuli in the brain and is important for that Nerve function.

  • Also the Heart rhythm is influenced to a small extent by taurine.

  • The body needs taurine to function properly Fat metabolism. The acid helps break down fats from food.

  • In the embryo, taurine is important for the development of the eyes and the brain.

Valid studies on taurine are still pending

In addition, taurine is said to strengthen the immune system, fight inflammation and strengthen the liver. However, this effect could only be determined in animal studies and laboratory tests. Meaningful tests with human subjects are still pending.

Studies have not been able to confirm the performance-enhancing effect that taurine is said to have over and over again. The same applies to the stimulating effect of synthetic taurine, as promised by the manufacturers of energy drinks. This effect of artificial taurine has also not been proven.

Medicines containing taurine

However, taurine is used medicinally. Premature babies, whose liver is not yet able to produce the substance itself, receive bile acid as an infusion as part of artificial nutrition. The aim is to fully develop the eyes. Otherwise there is a risk of problems with the retina in premature babies.

Many dietary supplements also contain synthetic taurine. They should generate more muscle strength, strengthen the brain, visual performance and the immune system. Bodybuilders therefore often rely on products containing taurine. However, these effects have not been proven.

Side effects of taurine

However, too much taurine can have adverse effects. Therefore, since June 2013, energy drinks may not contain more than 4 g of taurine per liter. However, the harmful side effects of taurine have not been recorded in valid studies. There is only evidence that taurine can develop the following effects, especially in combination with caffeine:

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment therefore recommends that children, pregnant women and breastfeeding women avoid energy drinks.

Caffeine, taurine and alcohol: a dangerous mix

In the party scene, energy drinks are often mixed with vodka or whiskey. A study by the European Food Safety Authority has shown that every second person drinks it with alcohol. But above all this combination of caffeine, taurine and alcohol can lead to dramatic side effects, which can range from circulatory collapse to kidney failure and cardiac arrest.

Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by www.lifeline.de.

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