Energy drinks, dietary supplements or cat food: you can come across the term “taurine” again and again. The substance is said to increase performance, act as a stimulant – and that it comes from bull testicles. So far, comparatively little is known about taurine. Some myths can still be dispelled.
What is Taurine?
Taurine occurs naturally in the body. It is created as a metabolic product from the amino acids cysteine and methionine. Taurine is therefore often incorrectly referred to as an amino acid. However, it is actually an aminosulfonic acid. The correct chemical name is 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid or β-aminoethanesulfonic acid.
Where is taurine found?
Taurine is produced by the human body itself in the brain and liver. In addition, with a normal diet, people consume between 10 and 400 mg of taurine per day through food. The substance is mainly found in fish, meat and milk. Breast milk contains a particularly high amount of taurine.
Otherwise, taurine is artificially produced in food laboratories and added to energy drinks, for example. It is also available as a dietary supplement, as a drink, capsules or powder.
How does taurine work?
Taurine is important for the body. The substance is a component of bile acid and as such is involved in fat digestion and the absorption of dietary fats from the intestine into the blood.
In addition, it is considered to play an important role in the development of the central nervous system, especially in the development of the brain and the stabilization of cell membranes. However, this has not yet been scientifically proven. Taurine is also said to regulate the influx of calcium into the heart muscle cells and thus ensure a regular heartbeat.
It has also not been scientifically proven whether additional taurine intake – for example via energy drinks – contributes to increasing physical and mental performance.
How is Taurine used?
Many energy drinks are laced with taurine. Together with the caffeine it also contains, the substance is said to have a fit and awakening effect. However, according to studies, this effect can only be attributed to the caffeine. In athletes, the substance is touted to have a cell-protecting effect in the muscles. However, a strong effect has not been proven here.
Taurine is used as a medicine for newborns and premature babies: the substance is particularly important for them. It is assumed that taurine is needed, for example, for the formation of the eye’s retina. Under certain circumstances, for example in the case of infections, the body’s own synthesis, i.e. production in the body, may not be sufficient. When artificially feeding newborns via nutrient infusion, called parenteral nutrition, the preparations are enriched with taurine. Many premature babies and infant milk formulas also contain the substance.
Taurine can also be taken as a dietary supplement if medically necessary. It is believed that it could have a positive effect on certain eye diseases and heart problems, for example. However, the research is only at the beginning here. Taking it should definitely be discussed with a doctor.
What side effects does taurine have?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says there are no observable side effects up to an amount of 1,000 milligrams. A very high dose of taurine probably has to be consumed before side effects occur. However, there are currently no studies on intake levels of over 1,000 milligrams. However, according to experts, higher doses are not recommended. Since it is excreted in the urine, people with kidney problems should also avoid taking additional taurine.
In addition, energy drinks can have dangerous effects in children and adolescents and in combination with sport , alcohol and/or caffeine. However, the role of taurine has not been sufficiently researched.
Is taurine dangerous?
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) warns that complications have occurred in the past when energy drinks containing taurine were consumed together with alcohol before, during or immediately after exercise. The BfR lists the following problems:
- Cases of cardiac arrhythmia
- Kidney failure
However, a direct connection with the taurine contained has not yet been proven.
The BfR generally warns children and young people against energy drinks. It is not the taurine that is dangerous, but rather the high dosage of caffeine. An evaluation of various studies by the BfR showed that consuming more than one liter of energy drinks at once caused the following complications in some young adults:
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- Muscle tremors
- Changes in heartbeat
The Federal Office therefore classifies children and young people as a risk group for energy drinks and calls for more information to be provided.
What happens if there is a taurine deficiency?
Animal experiments with mice showed that a taurine deficiency can lead to degeneration of the retina in the eye, leading to blindness, and to heart and muscle problems. In addition, the detoxification function of the liver is hindered, which led to high ammonium concentrations in the animals. The mice’s stress levels also increased. Similar effects can also be expected in humans.
Since humans usually produce taurine themselves in the body and consume it through food, a taurine deficiency only occurs very rarely. A slight deficiency can occur, for example, if you have been following a vegan diet for years, as taurine is mainly found in animal foods. Supplements should only be taken in consultation with a doctor.
How is taurine made?
The first production of taurine took place in the 19th century. At that time, the chemists Leopold Gmelin and Friedrich Tiedemann investigated the processes in the digestive process of cattle. Scientists succeeded in isolating the substance for the first time in 1827. The substance has been mentioned in more detail in scientific research literature since 1838. Today taurine is produced synthetically in the laboratory without any animal components.
Does taurine really come from bull testicles?
The discoverers of the substance took taurine from the bile of an ox in the 19th century. This is the simple reason why the substance is now known as “taurine.” In Greek, “tauros” is the name for the bull. The fact that taurine is obtained from bull testicles or bull urine is just a myth.
Why do cats need taurine?
Similar to humans, taurine is essential for a healthy metabolism for cats. Unlike humans or dogs, for example, cats can only produce very small amounts of taurine themselves. They also release a large part of the taurine they absorb through digestion . In house tigers, a taurine deficiency can lead to problems such as retinal degeneration. However, the cause is often only discovered late.The problem: Cat food that is heavily processed, heated or of poor quality sometimes does not contain enough taurine to cover the animal’s nutritional needs. Raw meat, on the other hand, contains large amounts of taurine, but is rarely fed. However, many manufacturers also add taurine to their food. Appropriate nutritional supplements are now also available for cats.