One day after high school, I stopped at a convenience store with my friend to pick up an energy drink before our workout.
Scanning the coolers full of energy drinks, my friend pointed out Red Bull. He directed me to the battling bulls on the can and explained that Red Bull contained an ingredient called taurine, which he claimed was extracted from bull semen.
Repulsed and puzzled, I decided to go with a competing brand to energize my workout that day.
It wasn’t until my early college years, when I became more interested in nutrition and sports supplement research, that I learned my friend’s claim wasn’t exactly accurate.
Today, Red Bull continues to include taurine in its formula. You can also find taurine in a variety of pre-workout and energy supplements. Further, some foods contain it, and your body can even produce it.
This article explains everything you need to know about taurine, including its benefits, its side effects, and whether and how you should take taurine supplements.
Taurine is a naturally occurring sulfur-containing amino acid. It’s particularly concentrated in your brain, eyes, heart, and muscles (
Although amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of protein, taurine isn’t used to build proteins in your body. Instead, it’s considered a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning it becomes essential only in times of illness and stress (
Rest assured that, despite the common belief, taurine is not extracted from bull semen or urine. Rather, it was first isolated in 1827 from the bile of an ox. The Latin name for an ox is Bos taurus, which is where the amino acid’s name originated (
Taurine is found in some foods, and your body can even produce it by itself. Therefore, taurine deficiency is unlikely in healthy adults (
However, because newborns and infants can’t make taurine as well as adults, they depend on taurine from breast milk or taurine-supplemented formula (
Taurine is an amino acid found in certain foods. Your body can also make it. It’s essential only in certain circumstances, such as in times of illness and stress.
Even so, taurine deficiency is unlikely. This is thanks to your body’s ability to make taurine in your liver from other amino acids (
In addition to getting taurine from food, you can get it from some energy drinks. These typically provide around 750 mg per 8-ounce (237-mL) serving (
For reference, the typical American diet provides 123–178 mg of taurine daily, while a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet — which includes both dairy products and eggs — provides only around 17 mg of taurine daily (
The form of taurine used in supplements and energy drinks is usually synthetic, meaning it’s not derived from animals. Therefore, it’s suitable for those eating a vegan or vegetarian diet (
The main dietary sources of taurine are protein-rich animal foods such as meat, fish, and dairy. Taurine is found in smaller amounts in some plant foods. It’s also added to many energy drinks.
Taurine is found in several organs and has widespread benefits.
- maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance in your cells
- forming bile salts, which play an important role in digestion
- regulating minerals such as calcium within your cells
- supporting the general function of your central nervous system and eyes
- regulating immune system health and antioxidant function
Because taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid, a healthy adult’s body can produce the minimal amount required for these essential daily functions.
However, your body may need larger amounts in times of illness or stress. This may be the case in people with heart or kidney failure and in premature infants who have been fed intravenously. These individuals may need to get taurine from food or supplements (
In animal models, taurine deficiency has been shown to cause eye damage, chronic liver disease, muscle weakening, and an increased risk of developing diabetes (
Taurine deficiency in humans is rare, so its effects remain largely unknown. Still, low taurine levels have similarly been associated with these conditions (
Taurine plays many important roles in your body. Although extremely rare, taurine deficiency has been shown to lead to serious health issues in animal studies.
Because of its abundance in the body, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and its role in energy production, taurine has been studied for its potential role in managing various clinical conditions and improving exercise performance.
May fight diabetes
Taurine’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may enhance insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes or improving blood sugar management in those with the condition (
Indeed, one study found that people with diabetes have a 25% lower concentration of taurine than those without diabetes. This suggests that taurine may have a role in diabetes management (
Although current research on the effects of taurine supplements for diabetes management in humans is limited, a 2018 review suggests that the supplements could be a good therapeutic option for improving blood sugar management in people with diabetes (
The same review also suggests that taurine could have protective effects against diabetes-related complications such as nerve damage, kidney damage, and heart disease (
Still, it’s unknown whether low taurine levels are a cause or a consequence of diabetes, and more research is needed.
May improve heart health
Taurine supplements have been shown to regulate blood pressure and improve heart function and blood fat levels in people with heart conditions such as heart failure. At high levels, it may even protect against heart disease (
Research suggests a link between higher taurine levels and reduced cholesterol, lower blood pressure levels, and significantly lower rates of death from heart disease (
In one study, people with heart failure took 500 mg of taurine three times daily for 2 weeks (
They experienced significant reductions in levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein (CRP) — an inflammatory biomarker — both before and after exercise, compared with those who took a placebo (
In a 12-week study in people with high-normal blood pressure, taking 1.6 grams of taurine per day reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 7.2 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 4.7 mmHg compared with placebo (
Taurine may help reduce high blood pressure by decreasing the resistance of blood flow in your blood vessel walls and by improving the efficiency of skeletal and heart muscle contractions (
May boost exercise performance
What’s more, taurine may increase fat burning during exercise to better fuel your performance (
A review of 19 studies assessing the effects of taurine on athletic performance noted several benefits, including (
- increased oxygen uptake by the body
- increased time to fatigue
- reduced muscle damage
- improved recovery times
- improved strength and power
The review authors suggest that an effective dose to achieve these benefits is 1–3 grams taken 1–3 hours before your workout for at least 6–21 days (
However, the authors also note that taurine’s effects on exercise performance tend to be small and inconsistent. Thus, more research is needed on the topic (
Other health benefits
- May benefit eye health. Taurine’s antioxidant effects may help combat the oxidative stress associated with retinal degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.
- May benefit hearing. Taurine may prevent the hair cells within the ear from becoming damaged, which is a key contributor to hearing loss.
- May offer neuroprotective effects. The anti-inflammatory effects of taurine may reduce inflammation within the brain and combat neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- May support liver health. Taurine may have protective effects against chronic and acute liver injury.
Although promising, these potential benefits are less studied or are primarily supported by animal and test-tube studies. Therefore, more research is needed to learn more about taurine’s benefits for human health.
Taurine may benefit people with diabetes, improve heart disease risk factors, and enhance various aspects of athletic performance. It may also offer a wide range of other potential health benefits, though supporting evidence is lacking.
According to the best available evidence, taurine has no negative side effects when supplemented appropriately (
One 2019 report suggests that the highest daily dose of taurine you can safely consume is 3 grams per day. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggested in its 2012 guidelines that you can safely take up to 6 grams per day (
Still, some people have reported side effects after taking taurine, including (
- liver pain
- stomach pain
It’s unclear whether these side effects are related to the amino acid or to a different ingredient that may have been taken alongside taurine.
As such, if you’re using any medications, you should consult your doctor to find out whether there’s any risk associated with taking taurine.
Also, if you choose to increase your taurine intake through pre-workout supplements or energy drinks, consider any other ingredients in these products that you may be sensitive to or want to limit. For example, these products may be high in caffeine or added sugar.
When consumed in reasonable amounts by a healthy individual, taurine doesn’t have any known side effects. Still, it may interact with certain drugs, so consult your doctor before taking taurine if you’re taking any medications.
However, keep in mind that an EFSA report from 2012 suggests that up to 6,000 daily is safe, demonstrating its strong safety profile (
The easiest and most cost-effective way to reach this dosage is through powder or capsule supplements. Most capsule supplements contain 500–1,000 mg per serving, while powdered taurine can have 1,000–2,000 mg per serving.
In my experience, taurine powder mixed with water has a slightly bitter taste, so you may want to experiment with different mixers to find a flavor profile you like.
Supplementing with 500–3,000 mg of taurine per day is known to be effective and safe.
Taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning you need more of it during periods of stress or illness. Deficiency is generally rare because taurine is common in animal protein foods and because your body can make it in your liver.
Taurine supplements have been studied for their therapeutic roles in managing diabetes and heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. They also show promise for improving various measures of sports performance. Still, more research in humans is needed.
Taurine has a strong safety profile, but keep in mind that it may interact with certain medications, so it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional before taking it.
Just one thing
Try this today: While most people can get all the taurine they need from their diet, supplementing with this amino acid can help optimize your levels for improved health and sports performance.