One of the most popular ingredients added to energy drinks is Taurine and today we’ll uncover why. Taurine is not an acute energy booster such as caffeine but works on a rather fundamental level to increase energy.
If you’re curious what is taurine, what are some common taurine benefits and functions, sit back and relax. From its mitochondria-enhancing effects to cognition and heart health, we’ll cover it all.
What is Taurine
Taurine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid heavily present in animal foods. I almost lost you there, didn’t I? It means it’s not concerned with anabolism and muscle growth, as it isn’t involved in protein synthesis. Instead of building proteins, taurine works to support cellular energy, metabolism, cardiovascular function, and cognition.
First found by a German scientist by the name of Leopold Gmelin in 1872, It draws its name from the ancient Greek word Taurus which means bull. Red Bull – sounds familiar? (1)
Taurine is present up to 50% in the free amino acid pool, meaning we have a lot of it. It’s found in excitatory tissue like the brain, muscles, and heart. It’s logical, as TAU is quite essential for neural, skeletal, and muscular development.
There’s a myth that taurine is extracted from a bull’s semen, which is utterly incorrect. It’s actually present in many animal-based foods and can be synthesized from methionine and cysteine in the body.
Is Taurine Essential?
Taurine is essential in children, as it helps them grow and develop. As stated above, it plays important role in developing the nervous system, plus it supports cardiovascular function.
Taurine is mainly found in animal-based foods. Think chicken, red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. Vegans may be deficient in taurine unless it’s ingested from sources like energy drinks or taurine supplements.
Taurine deficiency can occur in infants, which is why mother’s milk is so important for development. In adults, deficiencies rarely occur as we can make it on our own. (2)
How Does Taurine Work?
The underlying mechanisms behind many of Taurine’s benefits have to do its ability to:
- improve mitochondria function
- support gene expression
- support cardiovascular function
- protect from physiological stressors
- support energy metabolism
Taurine is known as a potent antioxidant as well. While this is true to some extent, as some studies show potent improvement in antioxidant capacity – taurine isn’t known to be an effective free radical scavenger.
By regulating antioxidant enzymes, reducing lipid peroxidation, and reducing how many ROS are generated by the mitochondria, it is hypothesized to work as an antioxidant. It also regulates membrane excitability, ion transfer (channels), and cell volume. (3) (4)
- conjugation of bile acids
- working as an antioxidant, inhibiting apoptosis
- regulating fluid volume
- membrane stabilization and calcium signaling
- calcium homeostasis
- glucose and lipid metabolism
All of these are very important for regulating cardiovascular function, neural development, and the proper functioning of our nervous system. Plus, taurine helps fight oxidative damage and mediates many physiological processes on a cellular level.
Taurine in Energy Drinks
Without a doubt, Taurine is one of the main components of energy drinks. (6) It’s also in some pre-workout supplements, ice teas, colas, and sodas.
According to research, the administration of taurine along with caffeine actually attenuated the cognitive boosting effects of caffeine. The scores in the working memory and processing speed task were enhanced with caffeine, but not taurine. (7)
Then why is TAU so popular? Well, some of it is marketing, but some of it is also the powerful, fundamental effect taurine has on our mitochondria – which helps us generate more (ATP) energy. Plus, TAU improves athletic performance and recovery, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Taurine is present in most energy drinks. It’s not as an acute cognitive booster as caffeine, but may help increase energy on a more fundamental level. That’s by improving mitochondria function, oxygen transfer, and glucose utilization.
Benefits of Taurine
Keep in mind that most of the benefits of taurine come from the support it provides for the plethora of physiological processes in the body. Many specific benefits may actually extend far beyond what you see.
For example, improving blood flow and increasing antioxidant status may mean slower neurodegeneration, more energy, and a longer lifespan. Just sayin’.
Cognition and Brain Health
Taurine, as a nutrient essential for neural development, it plays a massive role in cognition. It can aid in balancing neurotransmitters, it can protect the brain from oxidative stress, and may even assist in learning.
- restore taurine transporter functions
- enhance neurotransmission and energy metabolism
- regulate glutamate, GABA and acetylcholine receptors
- maintain CA2+ homeostasis, act on gene expression
Additionally, TAU may enhance learning as it improves synaptic function, neurogenesis, and plasticity. Both are quite important for encoding new information and neural signaling. (8)
Taurine’s neuroprotective effects rely on improving antioxidant function, restoring enzymes associated with acetylcholine breakdown, and mediating inflammation. In animal models (and manganese exposure) Taurine was shown to exert neuroprotective effects on Alzheimer’s, as it supports learning and memory. (10) (11)
Taurine plays an important role in cognition and may act neuroprotective as it mediates neural inflammation. It also regulates different receptors and chemicals that help with cognition, memory, and learning.
Mitochondria and Cellular Energy
Mitochondria are the power cells in your body that produce energy. Most metabolic diseases come from metabolic deficits, aka the inability to produce energy efficiently. How can Taurine combat this?
Taurine has the potential to improve mitochondrial function, thus reducing metabolic deficits. This is good news for aging, neurodegeneration, heart health, and metabolic syndrome. (12)
- enhancing membrane potential
- increasing ATP production
- reducing ROS (free radicals) generation
- controlling Calcium transfer
In an 8-week training in rats, administration of taurine showed significant benefits on ATP level (energy), and membrane potential, thus improving stamina. (15) So far, it looks as if it increases cellular energy by improving metabolism.
Research shows Taurine’s potential in increasing energy and supporting metabolism. It works by optimizing mitochondrial function – which can translate into higher energy and less oxidative stress. This means slower aging, decline, and degeneration.
Exercise Performance and Recovery
One of the perks of improving cardiorespiratory function and mitochondria is higher ATP (energy) production. Why? Because we can transport, use and utilize oxygen better. That may lead to better athletic performance, especially as Taurine is known to enhance regeneration.
Taurine supplementation on empty stomach increases its bioavailability. After 6-8h of ingestion, Taurine returns to baseline. (16)
A large review named “Taurine in sports and exercise” looks at the effect Taurine at <1g – 6g TAU for 10 – 2h prior workout may have in improving athletic performance. The highlights include: (17)
- improved VO2max, time to exhaustion
- improved anaerobic performance
- better peak power
- reduced muscle damage
Besides all of these, taurine can also improve many inflammatory factors and compounds like lactic acid, creatine kinase, oxidative (glycolytic/fat), and inflammatory markers. (17)
The anti-inflammatory effect may be especially important in reducing DOMS, or delayed onset of muscle soreness. This means faster recovery, so you get back on track with your training.
One of the secrets behind taurine’s effect is metabolism. It helps utilize glucose better, and metabolize and oxidize (burn) fat faster. Combined with increases mitochondria production (biogenesis) and better respiratory function, its role in aerobic performance is stunning. (17) (18)
Taurine can increase aerobic performance, accelerate recovery, and reduce inflammatory markers. The power lies in its ability to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis and optimize its function, thus increasing cellular energy.
The function of our heart is to pump out blood to peripheral tissues. The more efficient we’re at this, the more nutrients and oxygen can circulate through. Heart health is about keeping this function optimal while maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
Taurine has been shown to benefit heart health and support cardiovascular function by modulating CA transport, reducing its accumulation, and exerting an antioxidant-like effect. (19)
In diabetics, one of the key problems that show up with insulin resistance is inflammation. Taurine may offset this as it showed potential in exerting anti-inflammatory effects, reducing arterial stiffness, and increasing nitric oxide, which improves circulation. (22) (23)
In animal models with hyperlipidemia, taurine reduced atherosclerosis progression. (24)
Taurine may help enhance blood flow and reduce inflammation – two very important factors for heart health. It works by up-regulating nitric oxide to improve circulation and reduce arterial stiffness.
Taurine Rich Foods
Taurine is mainly present in animal-based foods like red meat, fish and seafood, chicken, poultry, pork, shellfish, eggs, etc.
Funny enough, one of the highest taurine sources are energy drinks. However, they can be loaded with tons of sugar and caffeine, which you can filter out by taking an individual supplement.
Taurine Deficiency in Vegan Diets
Plant-based sources of taurine include seaweed, nori, and some nuts like hazelnuts, pine nuts, and almonds. However, the amount of Taurine in plants is significantly lower.
Research compared the amount of taurine by analyzing the 3-d dietary diaries. While there was marginal to adequate protein, carbs, B6, methionine, and cysteine – the levels of taurine and zinc were pretty low in vegans. (25)
Another study showed Taurine is almost not present in the vegan diet compared to the omnivore diet. Levels of TAU in the urine of vegans were less than 50% compared to those of omnivores. (26)
So, supplementing with taurine from non-animal-based synthetic supplements may be a viable option for vegans to keep optimal taurine levels and get all the benefits it can provide.
- Taurine is a non-anabolic, sulfur-containing amino-acid important for neural and skeletal development. In humans it’s omnipresent, but the highest concentration is found in the brain, heart, and bile acids.
- Taurine is present in animal-based foods, hence why vegans may be deficient in it. Adults can synthesize it, so deficiencies are rare. In infants, it’s important to get taurine through the mother’s milk or feeding formula.
- Taurine plays a major role in mediating many physiological processes from regulating fluids, and cardiovascular function to cognition, neural development, and fighting inflammation.
- The main benefits include increased cellular energy, better recovery and aerobic performance, better brain performance, more efficient metabolism, and cardiovascular health.
- Taurine improves mitochondria function – which is the main underlying mechanism behind its effects. This may help reduce metabolic deficits, create more energy and live longer.