In this weeks article I wanted to write a piece on a nutraceutical that I use a fair bit in clinical practice and that’s the amino acid ‘Taurine’. While it is definitely ‘no bull’ that taurine was originally isolated from bull semen, it is now produced synthetically, or obtained through diet.
Taurine is a conditionally essential sulfur-containing amino acid that plays many roles in promoting health. Dietary sources of taurine tend to come from animal such as beef, chicken (dark meat), Turkey, lamb, eggs, organ meats, and seafood, especially shellfish such as mussels, clams and oysters. Those who do not eat these foods regularly, especially vegetarians, may be at risk for taurine deficiency.
The scientific community is still in disagreement as to whether humans make enough taurine in their own metabolism to meet their needs, however, it is my belief that due to the intense levels of stress that we experience in day-to-day life, our body’s often struggle for the supply to keep up with the demand. Unlike other amino acid building blocks that aid in the building of proteins; taurine is one of the most abundant amino acids found in the brain, retina, muscle tissue, and organs, and is used in many biological & physiology processes.
Another clinical observation that I see involving taurine is when I see elevated levels of homocysteine or SAH upon assessing a patient’s methylation status where it can often be a sign that the body may be having difficulty making taurine. Because taurine is essential for heart function, immune function, glucose metabolism, and nervous system health, low levels of taurine should be addressed with dietary changes and/or supplementation.
SOME SYMPTOMS OF TAURINE DEFICIENCY MAY INCLUDE:
- Chemical sensitivities
- Congestive heart failure
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Impaired brain function
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Night blindness
- Weight gain
Taurine is one of the most important nutrients for promoting heart health. It
strengthens the heart muscle and plays a major role in regulating the heart’s contractility. Adequate levels of taurine decrease the risk of development heart disease, hypertension, and congestive heart failure.
Taurine also acts as a natural diuretic by keeping potassium and magnesium inside cells and keeping excess sodium out. Such electrolyte mineral balance is crucial for heart vitality and overall wellness. However, unlike prescription diuretics, taurine is not a cellular poison and it does not act against the kidneys. In fact, taurine has been proposed for treatment of several kinds of human kidney disorders. Also, by encouraging the excretion of excess fluid, taurine helps to alleviate pressure on the blood vessels. Additionally, taurine increases circulation and stabilizes blood pressure by dampening the sympathetic nervous system, which, when overactive, constricts blood vessels. Furthermore, taurine relieves muscle spasms in the heart, which can also cause blood pres- sure to rise.
Irregular heart rhythm may be a sign of a taurine deficiency it helps promote a stable heart rhythm. This amino acid should be thought of whenever cardiac arrhythmias are present, because they may be caused by a lack of taurine. Magnesium and potassium are also excellent heart-supporting nutrients that should be considered for patients with arrhythmias.
Taurine aids in seizure disorders due to its calming effects on cell membranes making it useful in the management of epilepsy. Research in animal studies has shown that taurine has anticonvulsant action in seizures. A study showed epileptics have less taurine than controls.
The retinas contain the highest concentration of polyunsaturated fats of any cells in the body. These delicate fats need antioxidant protection provided by many nutrients, including taurine. A deficiency of taurine increases damage to the retinas of both animals and humans. Taurine may offer benefit for those with macular degeneration, though I feel more research is needed on this topic to draw some more solid scientific conclusions.
Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in our white blood cells. It is the shield these infection fighters use to protect themselves in their battle against viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. When taurine is lacking, white blood cells often will not fire, greatly weakening the body’s ability to protect itself. Therefore, for optimal protection against colds, flus, and other immune problems, optimal taurine intake is recommended.
Taurine’s calming effects on cell membranes make it useful in the management of epilepsy. Research in animal studies has shown that taurine has anticonvulsant action in seizures. The study showed that epileptics have lower taurine concentrations than controls, and that some anti-convulsant medication may effect the transport of taurine in the body. Certain chemicals present in some foods such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame lower the body’s concentration of taurine, which may be one reason why these food additives are associated with seizure activity. To take this a step further, those who are sensitive to MSG, where they may experience palpitations after consuming foods containing this chemical may be low in taurine.
I’ve worked with a number of patients over the years who were either epileptic or prone to seizures that had a dramatic reduction in seizure activity with some remaining free of seizures when taking taurine.
Taurine plays a significant role in protecting vision. The retinas of the eye contain the highest concentration of polyunsaturated fats of any cells in the body. These delicate lipids need antioxidant protection provided by a number of nutrients, including taurine. A deficiency of taurine has been shown to increase damage of the retinas in both human & animal studies.
Taurine helps stabilize blood sugar in both type I and type II diabetes. Taurine appears to do this by potentiating the activity of the insulin receptor. For those with type I diabetes, I find a daily dose 1.5 grams keeps blood sugar lower over the long term and reduced abnormal platelet activity. For those with type II diabetes, taurine improves cellular sensitivity to insulin. Diabetics should always use taurine under professional medical supervision as taurine may reduce the need for blood sugar lowering medication.
Bile, which is necessary to break down fats, is made in the liver with the help of glycine or taurine. With optimal taurine intake, bile remains in a liquid state and is less likely to form gallstones. Additionally, patients I’ve worked with who have cystic fibrosis and/or other dysfunctional digestive issues can digest fats more successfully when supplementing with taurine.
Taurine plays an important role as an antioxidant in lung tissue and I’ve found that patients with Asthma who suffered with asthma attacks found they were diminished significantly when a daily dose as little as 500mg is administered, although in some cases higher doses can be used.
Below I’ve listed some of benefits of taurine & it’s functions in the body:
- Aids in glucose metabolism by increasing activity of insulin receptors
- Assists in wound healing
- Boosts immune defence
- Decreases triglycerides
- Has antioxidant effects
- Helps regulate calcium levels
- Helps the liver detoxify damaging substances
- Improves fat metabolism in the liver
- Improves lung health
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Is a natural diuretic
- Is an inhibitory neurotransmitter
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers LDL cholesterol
- May help macular degeneration
- Needed foe kidney function
- Required for the formation of bile acid
- Prevents blood clots
- Protects cell-membranes from damage
- Strengthens the heart muscle
Based on the scientific literature & my own clinical experience working with patients in Functional Medicine Practice there is vert few adverse reactions that are associated with taurine supplementation. Most patients tolerate between 1 and 4 grams per day well. Generally speaking I often prefer to have patients take amino acids away from food, however, those with low sIgA, ulcers or infections such H.Pylori should use taurine carefully because taurine may increase the secretion of stomach acid.
Like with any supplement regime – patients with medical conditions should take taurine under the guidance of a Functional Medicine practitioner such as myself, and/or in conjunction with your GP/MD as taurine may change or reduce the need for certain medications.
Thank you for your attention
*By Steve Hawes