Taurine is a type of amino acid.
It is found in many foods and often added to energy drinks.
It is also very safe and has no known side effects when taken in reasonable doses.
What Is Taurine?
Unlike most other amino acids, it is not used to build proteins in the body. It is classified as a "conditionally essential" amino acid.
Despite common belief, this amino acid is not extracted from bull urine or bull semen. The name is derived from the Latin word taurus, which means ox or bull, so that may be the source of the confusion.
Bottom Line: Taurine is classified as a "conditionally essential" amino acid. It serves various important functions in the body.
Sources of Taurine
Although some vegetarian foods provide it in smaller amounts, it is unlikely that these will provide sufficient quantities to optimize the body's levels (10).
Taurine is also often added to soda and energy drinks, which may provide up to 600-1,000 mg in an 8-ounce serving. However, it is not recommended to drink soda or energy drinks due to other ingredients that are harmful (11, 12).
The form of taurine used in supplements and energy drinks (like red bull) is usually made synthetically and not derived from animals. It is therefore suitable for vegans.
Bottom Line: The main dietary sources of taurine are animal foods such as meat, fish and dairy. Smaller amounts are found in some plant foods. It is also added to many energy drinks.
Primary Roles of Taurine in the Body
Taurine is found in several organs, and its benefits are widespread.
Its direct roles include:
- Maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance in your cells (2, 14).
- Forming bile salts, which play an important role in digestion (2).
- Regulating minerals such as calcium within cells (2).
- Supporting the general function of the central nervous system and eyes (15).
- Regulating immune system health and antioxidant function (6, 16).
Since it's a "conditionally essential" amino acid, a healthy individual can produce the minimal amount required for these essential daily functions.
However, higher amounts may be required in rare cases, making it an "essential" nutrient for some people. This includes people with heart or kidney failure, or premature infants that have been fed intravenously for a long time (17).
When a deficiency occurs during development, serious symptoms like impaired brain function and poor blood sugar control have been observed (18).
Bottom Line: Taurine plays many important roles in the body. Although extremely rare, deficiency is linked to several serious health issues.
Taurine May Have Benefits for Diabetics
Taurine may improve blood sugar control and have benefits against diabetes.
Interestingly, taurine levels tend to be lower in diabetics than healthy individuals, another indicator that it may play a role in this disease (24).
Bottom Line: Taurine may have benefits for people with diabetes. It may lower blood sugar levels and improve various risk factors for heart disease.
Taurine May Improve Heart Health
Taurine may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research shows a link between higher taurine levels and significantly lower rates of death from heart disease, as well as reduced cholesterol and blood pressure (8).
Taurine may help reduce high blood pressure by decreasing the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessel walls. It may also minimize nerve impulses in the brain that cause blood pressure to increase (25, 26, 27).
In one study, 2 weeks of taurine supplementation in type 1 diabetics significantly reduced arterial stiffness. This should make it easier for the heart to pump blood around the body (28).
In one group of overweight humans, 3 grams of taurine per day for 7 weeks reduced body weight and improved several heart disease risk factors (29).
Bottom Line: Taurine may reduce the risk of heart disease by improving several key risk factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.
Taurine's Role in Exercise Performance
Taurine may also have benefits for athletic performance.
Research suggests that it can:
- Cause muscles to work harder and for a longer duration in animals (30).
- Increase muscles' ability to contract and produce force in animals (31, 32, 33).
- Remove waste products that lead to fatigue and cause the well-known "muscle burn" in humans (4).
- Protect muscles from cell damage and oxidative stress in humans (34, 35).
- Increase fat burning during exercise in humans (36).
In mice, it reduced fatigue and muscle damage during a workout (31).
In addition to these performance benefits, it may have benefits for weight loss by increasing the use of fat for fuel. In cyclists, supplementing with 1.66 grams of taurine increased fat burning by 16% (36).
Bottom Line: Taurine plays several important roles in your muscles and may help with various aspects of exercise performance. This includes reduced fatigue, increased fat burning and less muscle damage.
Other Health Benefits of Taurine
Taurine has a surprisingly wide range of health benefits.
In one human study, 12% of participants supplementing with taurine completely eliminated ringing in their ears, which is associated with hearing loss (41).
Taurine is also found in large quantities in the eyes, with research showing that eye problems may occur when these levels start to decline. Increased concentrations are believed to optimize eyesight and eye health (42, 43, 44).
Finally, it can protect liver cells against free radicals and toxin damage. In one study, 2 grams of taurine 3 times per day reduced markers of liver damage while decreasing oxidative stress (48, 49).
However, more research is needed on most of these benefits.
Bottom Line: Taurine has a wide range of potential health benefits, which range from reducing seizures to improving eyesight.
Side Effects and Safety Concerns
According to the best available evidence, taurine has no negative side effects when used in the recommended amounts (11).
While there have been no direct issues from taurine supplements, athlete deaths in Europe have been linked to energy drinks containing taurine and caffeine. This has led several countries to ban or limit the sale of taurine (50).
However, this may as well have been caused by the large doses of caffeine or some other substances the athletes were taking.
Bottom Line: When consumed in reasonable amounts by a healthy individual, taurine does not have any known negative side effects.
How to Supplement with Taurine
The most common dosage is 500–2,000 mg per day.
The upper limit for toxicity is much higher though, and even doses above 2,000 mg seem to be well tolerated.
Research on the safety of taurine has suggested that up to 3,000 mg per day for an entire lifetime is still safe (53).
The easiest and most cost-effective method to achieve this is through powder or tablet supplementation, which can cost as little as $6 for 50 servings.
Bottom Line: Supplementing with 500-3,000 mg of taurine per day is known to be effective, cheap and safe.
Take Home Message
Now you know why some researchers call taurine a "wonder molecule."
Very few supplements can provide so many health and performance benefits for less than $10 for a 2-month supply.
Whether you want to improve your health or optimize your sports performance, taurine can be a very cost-effective and safe addition to your supplement regimen.