Taurine (chem.: 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid) is a sulfur-containing amino acid that does not belong to the group of 20 proteinogenic amino acids. Taurine is synthesized in the liver from cysteine, methionine, and vitamin B6. It is essential for young children and premature babies.
Taurine is the second most abundant amino acid found in intracellular fluid (cytosol) and the pool of free amino acids. Glutamine is the amino acid with the highest concentration. The retina, central nervous system, lymphocytes, and thrombocytes (platelets) have a particularly high content of taurine.
The energy drink Red Bull® advertises taurine as one of its ingredients. One can of the drink (250 ml) contains approx. 1g taurine. However, the stimulating effect is not due to the taurine, but the caffeine that is also contained in the beverage.
Functions of Taurine
Taurine is a strong antioxidant. It is also involved in nerve impulse transmission, cell membrane stabilization, and immune system processes.
Taurine is particularly effective in inhibiting the oxidation of lipids (fats) and is thereby able to protect the retina from oxidative damage. Taurine is also a key element in sugar metabolism for glycolysis and gluconeogenesis.
Eyes and Protection of the Retina
The photoreceptors of the retina have the highest concentration of taurine of any part of the nervous system. It is presumed that taurine helps neutralize the oxidation (destruction) of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3, DHA, and EPA) in the retina and thereby protects the photoreceptors. Depletion of taurine stores in animal tests led to the destruction of photo receptors.
Taking a daily dose of 500 mg to 2,000 mg of taurine is therefore recommended in cases of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or age-related cataracts. Additionally, supplementation should also include omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants and especially the carotinoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
In comparison to healthy individuals, diabetics evidence a lower level of taurine. Supplemental taurine may therefore have beneficial effects on consequences of elevated blood sugar levels such as diabetic retinopathy.
Increase in Stroke Volume of the Heart
Ingestion of 1 gram of taurine has been shown to increase stroke volume of the heart by 20% in the recovery phase following athletic activity 2. Some athletes therefore drink a can of Red Bull® after training.
Pharmacists and nutritionists recommend doses between 200 mg and 500 mg daily for general prophylaxis. If you are suffering from diabetes, eye diseases, or cystic fibrosis, or if you are involved in competitive sports, doses in excess of 500 mg up to a maximum of 4,000 mg per day may be recommended 3. Dosages, especially those of more than 500 mg, should be spread over the course of the day and taken between meals.
Like all other amino acids, taurine is generally considered a safe active ingredient. It is recognized as non-toxic and can be easily stored. Doses in excess of 2,000 mg may cause light stomach irritations (very rare).
Epileptics should only take taurine under the supervision of a physician as headaches and nausea have been observed in people suffering from epilepsy when taking supplemental taurine.
- Gröber U. Orthomolecular Medicine. 2008. 204 ↩
- Bau W, Weiss M. The influence of a taurine containing drink on cardiac parameters before and after exercise measured by echocardiography. Amino Acids. 2001. 20(1):75-82 ↩
- Gröber U. Micronutrients. Metabolic Tuning, Prevention, Therapy. Drug Metabolism and Drug Interactions. 2009. 24(2-4):331 ↩