Taurine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the body. It is found in the central nervous system, skeletal muscle and is very concentrated in the brain and heart. It is synthesized from the amino acids methionine and cysteine, in conjunction with vitamin B6. Animal protein is a good source of taurine, as it is not found in vegetable protein. Vegetarians with an unbalanced protein intake, and therefore deficient in methionine or cysteine may have difficulty manufacturing taurine. Dietary intake is thought to be more important in women as the female hormone estradiol depresses the formation of taurine in the liver.
Taurine seems to inhibit and modulate neurotransmitters in the brain. There have been reports on the benefits of taurine supplementation for epileptics. It has also been found to control motor tics, such as uncontrollable facial twitches. Taurine’s’ effectiveness in epilepsy has been limited by its poor diffusion across the blood-brain barrier.
In Japan, taurine therapy is used in the treatment of ischemic heart disease. Low taurine and magnesium levels have been found in patients after heart attacks. Like magnesium, taurine affects cell membrane electrical excitability by normalizing potassium flow in and out of heart muscle cells. Supplements decrease the tendency to develop potentially lethal abnormal heart arrythmias after heart attacks. People with congestive heart failure have also responded to supplementation with improved cardiac and respiratory function.
Another role played by taurine is maintaining the correct composition of bile, and in maintaining the solubility of cholesterol. It has been found to have an effect on blood sugar levels similar to insulin. Taurine helps to stabilize cell membranes and seems to have some antioxidant and detoxifying activity. It helps the movement of potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium in and out of cells, which helps generate nerve impulses.
Taurine is necessary for the chemical reactions that produce normal vision, and deficiencies are associated with retinal degeneration. Besides protecting the retina, taurine may help prevent and possibly reverse age-related cataracts. Low levels of taurine and other sulfur containing amino acids are associated with high blood pressure, and taurine supplements have been shown to lower blood pressure in some studies.
Other possible uses for Taurine supplementation include eye disease, cirrhosis, depression and male infertility due to low sperm motility and hypertension. Possible symptoms of toxicity include diarrhea and peptic ulcers. For those considering taurine supplements, taurine is known to have a calming or depressant effect on the central nervous system and may impair short term memory. Taurine is present in meats and animal products, but not in plant products.