Taurine is an essential amino acid, meaning that it is a building block of protein that you get from your diet and that the body can’t synthesize on its own. If you’ve heard of it (and you’re not a biologist), then chances are it’s because you saw it listed on the ingredients of an energy drink or because you’re a bodybuilder. That’s because taurine is believed to aid with weight loss, to improve energy production and generally to help us be faster, healthier and leaner.
Taurine has been shown to significantly reduce lipid levels in the bloodstream, which can thereby help us to deal with excess glucose and to improve blood pressure/reduce the likelihood of heart problems. At the same time, taurine is also able to increase the amount of magnesium and potassium in the heart, which can help to support healthy function.
Taurine is able to reduce cortisol levels in the body, which in turn make it an effective tool in combating obesity. Cortisol is what we often refer to as the ‘stress hormone’. It is produced when our blood sugar levels are low and when we are anxious. It is also produced first thing in the morning when it helps to ‘wake up’ the brain. When we’re going to sleep conversely, cortisol is exactly what we don’t need and will prevent us dozing off.
What’re more, cortisol is known for encouraging weight gain through two separate mechanisms. Firstly, it increases the production of ghrelin, which in turn increases appetite and encourages us to eat more – a sure fire way to gain weight. At the same time, cortisol also encourages lipogenesis (the creation of new fat cells) particularly around the stomach where it is most dangerous.
As you can imagine, lowering a substance that increases stress is a very good way to make someone less stressed! This will also improve sleep and have a range of positive knock-on effects throughout your body. That’s because stress, among other things, can suppress your immune function, digestion and more. Less stress = better all-round health!
Taurine is an effective antioxidant that is able to reduce the effects of damaging oxidative compounds in the body. This may help to make it an effective anti-carcinogen and anti-ageing treatment. These effects are particularly profound in the eye, with taurine being the most abundant amino acid found in the retina and protective against age-related vision impairment.
In fact, taurine is sometimes referred to as the ‘longevity nutrient’. It is believed that one of the reasons the Japanese enjoy a statistically long lifespan is that they consume a lot of seafood – high in taurine.
Taurine is perhaps most widely appreciated among bodybuilders and athletes. This is thanks to the fact that taurine helps to improve energy metabolism in a number of ways.
For starters, taurine aids with the volumization of muscle cells – encouraging them to store more water. It has synergistic effects when combined with creatine, which also volumizes the muscles in a similar way.
Additionally, taurine can help to improve insulin sensitivity, allowing athletes to gain more benefit from glucose in their blood (and to reduce weight gain further). Taurine also helps to remove lactic-acid build-up from the muscles, which means you can train longer before you are in too much pain to carry on with more repetitions.
Finally, by reducing cortisol, taurine can actually help to prevent muscle breakdown. That’s because cortisol not only increases production of ghrelin but also myostatin. Myostatin is a protein that encourages the breakdown of muscle tissue and studies show that if you can entirely block the production of this chemical, it can lead to an increase in muscle mass up to 30% with no apparent side effects!
Risks and Side Effects
Before you get carried away though, it’s useful to bear in mind that taurine is no miracle substance and does still carry some concerning risks and side effects. In particular, taurine has an inhibitory effect on the neurotransmitters and can thereby actually make you slightly less mentally alert when taken in high doses. In fact, one of the reasons that taurine makes its way into a lot of energy drinks like Red Bull, is that it can help to take the ‘edge’ off of all the stimulants like caffeine and guarana that are included!
What’s more is that adaptive changes in the brain following continuous supplementation with taurine could lead to problems with depression.
Note that these effects are only likely to be an issue for those supplementing with large amounts of taurine. Instead, just try to eat a bit more meat and a bit more fish and you should find you can enjoy some of the positive effects of taurine without the negatives.