There’s an amino acid out there that many believe comes from bull urine or bull semen, but the truth is this conditional amino acid, taurine, does not come from the bodily fluids of bulls. So what is taurine, and where does it come from?
Natural taurine actually comes from meat, fish and dairy and is otherwise found as synthetic supplements. It’s most abundant in the brain, eyes, heart and muscles, and much like glycine, it’s considered a conditional amino acid as opposed to an essential amino.
The only amino acid with its own zodiac sign, it’s falsely been associated with the myth of coming from bull urine or bull semen, probably because its name stems from taurus, meaning bull. But, rest assured, it does not come from the bull and actually is created naturally in the human body as well. (1)
So what is taurine, why is it associated with the bull and is it safe? Let’s take a look at all those questions.
What Is Taurine?
Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, was isolated from bull bile back in 1827. However, nowadays it’s most commonly found in the form of a supplement. That brings us to energy drinks. Did you know that the rate of emergency room visits has doubled over the past few years due to energy drinks? It’s no secret that they have a ton of caffeine. Some of them also contain taurine. Red Bull, for example, contains taurine, but just how much and is it safe? According to the Red Bull website, our bodies naturally contain 70 percent more taurine than one can of Red Bull. (2)
However, according the the European Food Safety Authority, even though taurine is used at higher levels in most energy drinks, it seems that there are “no observed adverse effect level” if consuming up to 3,000 milligrams per day of supplemental taurine. Half a can contains 125 milliliters, which means that unless you consume multiple cans per day, you’re probably OK in regard to taurine levels. Having said that, I wouldn’t take this for granted, especially considering the number of side effects and emergency room visits many energy drinks may induce — plus, energy drinks contain toxins and harmful ingredients you should avoid. That’s why I strongly discourage folks from consuming popular energy drinks that are high in sugar, caffeine and who knows what in general. (3)
Taurine does have benefits, such as potentially helping keep the heart healthy, working as an antioxidant, helping stimulate the muscles to offer better performance for athletes, and providing relaxing, sedative effects that could help someone with neurological disorders. Wait, relaxing effect and energy drinks? That doesn’t match up. More than likely, the energy from those drinks comes from a boatload of caffeine and sugar, not the taurine. (4, 5)
But the question still lies: Are energy drinks safe? Recently, I was saddened to hear about a teenager in South Carolina who, according to the coroner, died of a caffeine overdose. The teen had consumed three different beverages in a short period of time, one of which was an energy drink. He had no previous heart condition, but the large amount of caffeine caused arrhythmia. When this happens, the heart beats either too fast, too slow or erratically. (6)
There was no mention of taurine in this report. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does state that caffeine, in doses up to 400 milligrams or approximately five cups of coffee, is considered generally safe. According to research, however, drinking 32 ounces of an energy drink may cause harmful circumstances relating to blood pressure and heart function unlike what may happen with caffeine alone. With more than 500 energy drink products on the market today, it’s no surprise that the number of emergency room visits associated with their consumption has risen tremendously. (7)
So in short, no, energy drinks are not good for you, whether they contain taurine or not. But that doesn’t mean taurine should be dismissed entirely, as it is beneficial and naturally occurring in the body. So what is taurine good for? Let’s take a look.
What Is Taurine Good For? Benefits of Taurine
1. May Help Reduce Cardiovascular Disease
Studies show that taurine may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It does this by reducing blood pressure and inflammation. Some evidence suggests that taurine improves the function of the left ventricle of the heart and calms the nervous system.
Research indicates that taurine, even as short-term supplementation, has the ability to support better physical function, reduce cardiovascular risks that may occur after exercise and improve problems associated with heart failure patients. While more studies need to be conducted, this is promising for anyone suffering from heart disease. (8, 9)
2. Possibly Helps Decrease Side Effects of Parkinson’s
Studies indicate that taurine may help with the regeneration of brain cells. Testing has revealed low levels of taurine in patients with Parkinson’s.
According to research, taurine has the ability to help increase the growth of brain cells by stimulating stem cells and increasing the life of neurons. Furthermore, we’ve learned that new brain cells can grow in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory, with the help of taurine-filled foods and supplements. (10) It seems that it works well, in terms of boosting the brain, with glycine.
3. Potentially Reduces Metabolic Syndrome
If you’re at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and other health problems due to obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides and low HDL levels, you may have metabolic syndrome.
A review published in the journal Food & Function wanted to know what is taurine able to do to combat metabolic syndrome. What researchers found was that after analyzing both human and animals studies, taurine was found to have “an efficient action against metabolic syndrome, which includes reducing triglycerides to prevent obesity, improving insulin resistance to regulate glucose metabolism, lowering cholesterol to prevent diet-induced hypercholesterolemia, and … reduce blood pressure.” (11)
4. Aids Patients with Periodontal Disease
Taurine is an antioxidant. This means it can help fight those free radicals and anything causing oxidative stress from free radicals in the body. Patients with periodontal disease were observed for a period of time to understand if taurine assisted in the healing process of those with chronic periodontitis. According to the data, taurine greatly improved the antioxidant levels of the patients by enhancing the levels of lipid peroxidation products (TBARS) and the antioxidant enzymes; therefore, the healing process was improved. (12)
5. May Improve Athletic Performance
Taurine lays claim to improving athletic performance. A study conducted by the Health and Exercise Sciences Research Group at the University of Stirling in Scotland evaluated subjects who were middle distance runners before and after consumption of taurine in the form of a supplement. Ninety percent of the subjects had improved performance by a few seconds, and to the running world, a few seconds can mean everything. The athletes ingested 1,000 milligrams of taurine two hours prior to running, and the supplementation did not affect respiratory system, heart rate or blood lactate levels. According to the results, there is a 99.3 percent chance that taurine was helpful to performance of the athletes during the time trial. (13)
However, other research found different results. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had 15 runners complete trials on a treadmill for 15 minutes, consuming various energy drinks with caffeine and taurine. After the trials, researchers concluded, “The findings show no performance benefits under the conditions of this study. However, there does appear to be a significant increase in systolic blood pressure.” (14)
Clearly, further research is needed, but there does appear to be evidence taurine can improve athletic performance under the right conditions.
What Is Taurine In? Taurine Foods and Products
According to the FDA, healthy adults are able to synthesize taurine from sulfur-containing amino acids, such as cysteine and methionine. This makes taurine a conditionally essential nutrient, but newborns and those who may be in certain disease states may require dietary supplementation.
Taurine is naturally found in meat and dairy products, which means if you eat a balanced diet, you probably get all you need. It’s found in cow’s milk-based infant formula and may be added as a supplement to non-dairy-based infant formula.
For those who eat both plants and meat, diets have been estimated to provide nine to 400 milligrams of taurine per day. For those on a lacto-avo-vegetarian diet, it’s estimated to be about 17 milligrams per day, while vegan diets indicate zero levels of taurine. The FDA states that individuals with low dietary taurine intake may conserve taurine. So basically, the excretion of taurine through urine is low when taurine is restricted, as in the case of a vegetarian or vegan diet. (15)
What is taurine content in certain foods? Here are a few approximations:
- Meat and poultry — 11 to 306 milligram/100 grams wet weight
- Seafood — 11 to 827 milligrams/100 grams wet weight
- Dairy products — two to eight milligrams/100 milliliters
- Breast milk and infant formula — four to seven milligrams/100 milliliters
Up to 3,000 milligrams per day of taurine in supplement form is considered safe. However, more studies are needed to confirm this. Additionally, your body will excrete excess taurine through the kidneys, but that could put a lot more work on the kidneys than necessary, especially for anyone dealing with kidney failure, something to discuss with your doctor. (16)
What Is Taurine? History of Taurine
There’s not alot of information about the history of taurine in terms of how it became so popular, but what we know is that it’s named after the Latin taurus, which means bull or ox, because it was first isolated from ox bile in 1827 by German scientists Friedrich Tiedemann and Leopold Gmelin.
Regardless, as previously noted, taurine does not come from bulls, but rather is naturally produced in the body or is synthetically produced, which is the form found in energy drinks. The European Food Safety Authority, the organization that assesses risk issues of food in the European Union, states that “the exposure of taurine at levels presently used in energy drinks is not of a safety concern.” This statement was reconfirmed by the EFSA in 2015. (17)
Precautions/Side Effects with Taurine
To reiterate, according to numerous health and safety regulations, taurine is deemed as generally safe to consume, but it’s important to take everything in moderation. Consult your doctor before consuming taurine, and when possible, simply get it through a balanced diet.
A few words of precaution, however. Taurine has been used safely in adults in some studies and has been given safely to children. Research studies have not reported any common side effects to date. One report of brain damage in a body-builder has been documented when the bodybuilder took taurine combined with insulin and steroids, though it’s not confirmed that the combination or the taurine caused the brain damage.
More studies are needed to understand the safety of taurine during pregnancy and breast-feeding. It may be best to avoid its use. It’s been noted that too much taurine may cause bipolar disorder to worsen over time. One case has been reported based on a 36-year-old man who consumed several servings of Red Bull Energy Drink over a period of four days. However, it’s uncertain as to whether the cause was from taurine or the combination of numerous ingredients found in the product.
Final Thoughts on What Is Taurine
- What is taurine? It’s a conditional amino acid found naturally created in the body. It’s also in meat, dairy and seafood.
- Taurine may be a source of health for those dealing with heart problems, issues with inflammation, neurological disorders, and anyone at risk for stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and more. If athletic performance is important to you, taurine may help, though there are conflicting reports of the effectiveness.
- The FDA deems taurine as generally recognized as safe, though it’s not a good idea to get it from energy drinks. Many energy drinks contain it, but they also contain unhealthy ingredients you want to avoid.
- While you can get taurine from supplements, I always suggest getting your nutrition from whole food sources first when possible.
- Remember, when someone answers the question what is taurine by saying it comes from bull bodily fluids, let them know the myth is not quite true. It was first discovered in ox and bull bile, but taurine is found in the body naturally as a conditional amino acid.