Taurine: Energy Booster or Total Bull?
We’ve all seen the ads: Red Bull “gives you wings.” Sports supplements will keep you strong. These products point to the amino acid taurine as an essential ingredient – and the reason for those claims.
At first glance, the promises make sense.
After all, taurine gets its name from the Latin word for “bull.” Take in enough of this nutrient and you’ll be able to work – and work out – faster, stronger, and harder.
Well, not exactly. While some research does suggest such results from products that contain taurine, there’s no good evidence that the amino acid is the reason for those benefits.
In fact, the true promise of taurine may be a lot less sexy – but a lot more important.
Is that Bull Bile in Your Energy Drink?
Compared to many natural products with millennia of use, taurine is a relatively recent phenomenon. The amino acid was discovered in 1827 by German chemists who isolated it from ox bile, hence the name “taurine.” (An ox is a castrated bull.)
So how did we go from bull bile to energy drinks?
Well, nearly 150 years later scientists found that formula-fed preterm infants couldn’t sustain normal levels of taurine. This was the first link between taurine and human health and nutrition. And that connection moved taurine from a non-essential nutrient to one that’s considered “conditionally essential.”
See, taurine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the human body – and it’s particularly abundant in muscle fibers.
Can you tell where I’m going with this?
Taurine’s presence in muscle fibers has led some scientists – and marketers – to speculate that the amino acid is crucial for optimal energy and athletic performance.
Taurine has been hypothesized to increase muscle mass, muscle strength, power, reduce muscle damage caused by exercise, accelerate recovery between workouts, and may also have an insulin-like effect in the body.
The processes by which these functions take place are not yet clearly known. However, it appears that taurine has several critical functions and may expand the body’s cells by helping the muscle cell itself hold more water, thus increasing cell volume.
It’s also been used with varying degrees of success in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, hypercholesterolemia, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, retinal degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, hepatic disorders (i.e. hepatitis), alcoholism, and cystic fibrosis.
But does the research bear any of this out?
Energy Boosting Claims that Fizzle….
Taurine is a common ingredient in energy drinks. While some preliminary studies show that taurine may improve mental performance and increase exercise endurance, overall research on the energy-enhancing effects of taurine is limited.
One study of 10 people found that those who consumed Red Bull scored higher on tests of mental performance and mood than those who drank a placebo beverage.1
Two other studies of 42 people suggest that a caffeinated, taurine-containing beverage produced improved attention and verbal reasoning, in comparison with a sugar-free and the sugar-containing drinks.2,
But we need a lot more research to be able to say that taurine itself improves mental – let alone physical performance.
In fact, a 2010 report published in The Physician and Sports Medicine states that the fatigue-fighting effects of energy drinks are most likely due to their caffeine content (rather than their taurine content).
Research to Take to Heart…
Energy drinks aside, there’s one area of research that suggests that taurine may hold promise for a less exciting but far more serious condition: congestive heart failure.
Preliminary research suggests that taurine may be beneficial as a complement to traditional medications for symptoms of congestive heart failure. Taking taurine seems to improve heart function, more specifically, left ventricular function and symptoms in patients with moderate to severe heart failure.
For example, one small study of 14 people with congestive heart failure found that those who took supplemental taurine for 4 weeks significantly improved on measurements of heart function. The amino acid was deemed safe and effective.3
Another study of 41 people with congestive heart failure suggested that taking a supplement that contained taurine and other nutrients might improve outcomes in people with the disease.4
And an animal study found that supplemental taurine appeared to improve markers of congestive heart failure, although the results will need to be replicated in humans.5
Using Taurine Wisely…
Taurine has been used safely in adults in studies lasting up to one year. It has been given safely to children for up to 4 months. People enrolled in research studies have not reported major side effects connected with the use of taurine.
High levels of taurine could result in excessive energy, anxiousness, and difficulty sleeping while low levels could result in poor energy levels, anxiousness, and sleep difficulties.
People with high cholesterol, low blood pressure, coagulation disorders, potential for mania, or epilepsy should use taurine cautiously. Avoid consumption of energy drinks containing taurine, caffeine, glucuronolactone, and B vitamins before consuming alcohol or indulging in heavy exercise.
You should also be wary about taking taurine if you also take anesthetics, anticoagulants, anti-seizure drugs, drugs for cholesterol, drugs for blood pressure, diltiazem, hypoglycemic agents, taltrimide, tamoxifen, and herbs and supplements with similar effects, since it could interact with them.
Better Ways to Boost Energy…
So who should take taurine?
Well, it may be worth supplementing with the amino acid if you’ve been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The standard dose for the condition is 2 to 6 grams a day in divided doses.
But if you’re trying to amp up your energy?
You’re better off eating a varied nutritious diet, getting plenty of sleep, and doing some form of exercise each day than guzzling energy drinks. And that’s no bull.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1 Seidl R, Peyrl A, Nicham R, et al. A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being. Amino Acids. 2000;19(3-4):635-42.
2 Warburton DM, Bersellini E, Sweeney E. An evaluation of a caffeinated taurine drink on mood, memory and information processing in healthy volunteers without caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001 Nov;158(3):322-8.
3 Azuma J, Sawamura A, Awata N, et al. Therapeutic effect of taurine in congestive heart failure: a double-blind crossover trial. Clin Cardiol. 1985 May;8(5):276-82.
4 Jeejeebhoy F, Keith M, Freeman M, et al. Nutritional supplementation with MyoVive repletes essential cardiac myocyte nutrients and reduces left ventricular size in patients with left ventricular dysfunction. Am Heart J. 2002 Jun;143(6):1092-100
5 Sole MJ, Jeejeebhoy KN. Conditioned nutritional requirements: therapeutic relevance to heart failure. Herz. 2002 Mar;27(2):174-8.
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