Taurine is found in high amounts in the brain, eyes, muscles, the muscle layer of the heart, in the organs, in platelets, the blood clotting agents in the blood and in the white blood vessels. 1 It also has a wide variety of functions in the central nervous system and deficiency is associated with heart disease, kidney dysfunction, developmental abnormalities in newborns and severe damage to the nerves cells of the retina. It is
undoubtedly one of the most essential substances in the human body2
Taurine is called a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that we manufacture taurine in the body – from methionine and cysteine (two common proteins). However, this manufacture is limited in newborns and, as we age, our production of taurine declines. The upshot of this is that for newborn children, it is vital that the nursing mother eats the best sources of taurine, which are meat and seafood (formula milk is fortified with taurine). And that as we age, we keep up our consumption of meat and seafood.
There is a lot of interest in taurine, as the above video goes into, and both taurine and taurine derivatives are being considered for development as drugs to combat infectious and chronic inflammatory disease. 3 Taurine protects cells by a strong anti-oxidant action and it also helps stabilise the cell wall. Both of these actions make it a very helpful supplement for those suffering rheumatoid arthritis.
The best known role of taurine is in the formation of bile acids in the liver – we need bile to break down and absorb fats. The name, taurine, comes from where it was first discovered – in ox bile. As someone who works with people on their nutrition, I find it very common that people have a hard time digesting fat. This is never recognised as a problem because of the constant war waged against fat by nutritionists and the government. However, it has been found that cystic fibrosis patients, who find fat digestion difficult but vital, taurine supplementation has helped.
All the tissues in the eyes contain taurine, and so anybody with eye problems would be wise to supplement with taurine to help the body out.
Taurine helps the heart by a couple of ways. It helps keep potassium and magnesium in the cell and keeps excessive sodium out, and so will work like a diuretic. It modifies the speed of muscle contractions, so has been found to be very helpful to those with congestive heart failure. It is also acts like a calming neurotransmitter, so in people with high blood pressure, it calms them down and lowers their blood pressure.
Which latter point brings me to a bit of a side track. Some will have seen that taurine is in energy drinks like Red Bull. While it does have a positive effect on the production of nitrous oxide, so increases energy, its effects as a downer, plus the huge amount of sugar in such energy drinks, means that after the high of the drink can only come the low – and the need to reach out for another Red Bull to keep things going. Nice one.
The video says that taurine can help alcoholics recover. It helps the liver, but it is also the strong presence of taurine in the brain that is vital here. As the video says, how taurine works in the brain is something of a mystery, but one of the things that has been found is that it is uptaken by the GABA receptors. Now, when we have a drink, we raise our levels of GABA. So taking taurine will help raise those GABA levels and so reduce the need to drink.
Finally, there is discussion as to whether taurine helps with both types of diabetes: insulin and non-insulin dependant. Certainly low levels of taurine are associated with pancreatic β cell malfunction – insulin is secreted by the β cells and insulin is the hormone responsible for lowering high blood sugar. But much of the work has been done on cats and rats, and it isn’t always backed up by work done on humans.
The take home point is that, although vegetarianism is held out to be the holy grail of eating, there are many vital nutrients that are found principally in meat and fish. And taurine is one of them. If suffering from eye problems, difficulty digesting fat or rheumatoid arthritis, it is certainly worth trying taurine supplementation to see if it helps. When it comes to heart disease or diabetes, then trying taurine as a supplement is worth a punt with the co-operation of the doctor. (Bit of a laugh in the UK). I most emphatically do not recommend being a vegan if intending to become pregnant or if nursing.
So lobster and steak = strong eyes, a beating heart, sturdy immune system, blooming babies and cancer basher. Bring it on.