Taurine

Amino acids such as glutamine, arginine and perhaps tyrosine seem to get most of the attention in sports nutrition circles. One amino acid that may be being overlooked is taurine.

Taurine is a ubiquitous non-essential amino acid found throughout the human body, similar to glutamine. It's considered non-essential because the body can make taurine from the amino acids methionine and cysteine with the help of vitamin B6.

Taurine may be non-essential and ubiquitous in the human body, but that does mean taurine does not have some potentially interesting effects that athletes may benefit from. Although taurine is listed as being non-essential, it should probably be listed as conditionally essential, which means under certain circumstances, it becomes essential to the human body.

Much of taurine's exact role in human biology is still being elucidated, but what has been looked at is compelling. Taurine is intimately connected with cell volume, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, the ability of muscles to contract correctly and hundreds of other functions known and yet unknown.

For example, there is a steady decline in taurine levels as we age, which may lead to a host of problems. One study that rats fed taurine at 1.5% of calories found taurine supplementation blunted age-related declines in serum IGF-1, an important anabolic hormone essential to muscle growth and protein synthesis.

Another study found that supplemental taurine in aging rats corrected the age-related decline in the ability of the rat's muscle to contract. The study suggested that an age related decline of taurine content could play a role in the alteration of electrical and contractile properties of muscles observed during aging and that supplemental taurine corrected the decline.

The study concluded, "these findings may indicate a potential application of taurine in ensuring normal muscle function in the elderly." This has very exciting possibilities in aging populations, but human trials are still lacking.

Another exciting area of research for taurine is its possible role in managing diabetes and improving insulin sensitivity. Several studies in both rats and humans suggest taurine can play a role in improving several indices of diabetes, such as insulin metabolism, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, as well as others and diabetics appear to be chronically low in taurine.

For example, one study found Taurine attenuated hypertension and improved insulin sensitivity in rats made insulin resistant by a high fructose diet. Treatment with 2% taurine put in the rats drinking water prevented the blood pressure elevation and attenuated the hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels) in fructose fed rats and prevented the large spike in glucose levels in response to an oral glucose load.

The study concluded, "thus, taurine supplementation could be beneficial in circumventing metabolic alterations in insulin resistance." Several studies have found this effect in rats fed taurine and made diabetic.

One human study looked at the ability of taurine to prevent blood platelet aggregation or "sticky" blood cells in diabetics. This is important because "sticky" blood platelets are related to the development of heart attacks and is a particular issue to diabetics. The study found that supplemental taurine made the diabetic's blood aggregation or "stickiness" equal to that of healthy controls.

So what use does taurine have to athletes and healthy people? Well again, as is so often the case, human studies in healthy athletes are lacking, so it's difficult or near impossible to make solid recommendations at this time. Taurine might be a great supplement to healthy athletes or it may only work in those populations who chronically lack taurine in their tissues, such as the aging, diabetics and others.

One thing is for sure, as with pretty much all amino acids, multi gram doses will probably be needed for any effect and any product that sprinkles in a few milligrams will be of little use to the buyer.

It would be great if we had solid data showing some positive effects in athletes. And it would be nice if we knew what the effective dose was. Sadly, we have neither at this time. However, due to the shear amount of overall data we have, I am still giving taurine a tentative thumb's up as a "worth a try" supplement.

Dawson Jr., R. and S. Liu, et al. "Effects of dietary taurine supplementation or deprivation in aged male Fischer 344 rats," Mech Ageing Dev 107/1 (1999) p. 7391.

Anuradha, C.V. and S. D. Balakrishnan. "Taurine attenuates hypertension and improves insulin sensitivity in the fructose-fed rat, an animal model of insulin resistance," Can J Physiol Pharmacol 77/10 (1999), p. 749-54.

Nakaya, Y. and A. Minami, et al. "Taurine improves insulin sensitivity in the Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty rat, a model of spontaneous type 2 diabetes," Am J Clin Nutr 71/1 (2000) p. 54-8.

Franconi, F. and F. Bennardini, et al. "Plasma and platelet taurine are reduced in subjects with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus: effects of taurine supplementation," Am. Jour. Clin. Nutr. 61/5 (1995), p. 1115-9.

Hansen, S.H. "The role of taurine in diabetes and the development of diabetic complications," Diabetes Metab Res Rev 2001 17/5 p. 330-46.

Blood Pressure Health

Blood Pressure Health

Your heart pumps blood throughout your body using a network of tubing called arteries and capillaries which return the blood back to your heart via your veins. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart beats.Learn more...

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