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Nutrient - Taurine

By Jenny Bodenham BA (Hons) DipION MBANT

Taurine is a derivative of the sulphur-containing amino acid, cysteine, and requires vitamin B6 for its synthesis. It is considered to be a sulphonic acid and is named after the Latin Taurus, meaning bull, or ox, as it was first isolated from ox bile. Taurine synthesis occurs in the liver and the brain. As the second most abundant free amino acid in the brain, taurine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, helping to control the electrical impulses that pass along nerve cells. Studies have demonstrated the positive anti-convulsive effects of taurine.

Taurine is also found in white blood cells, the heart, skeletal muscles and in large amounts in the eyes, where it stabilises the nerve cell membranes of the retina. Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in the heart muscle, where it supports contractile function, maintaining normal heart rhythms.  Supporting liver detoxification, taurine helps to prevent the formation of toxic aldehydes and studies have shown that it may have a role in supporting recovery from alcohol dependency. Acting as an antioxidant, taurine protects against the toxicity of substances such as lead and cadmium. Taurine combines with bile acids to form bile salts, which aid the emulsification of fats in the small intestine, promoting healthy digestion. By helping to keep bile soluble and supporting the excretion of cholesterol in the bile, taurine may also help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and may be protective against the formation of gallstones. 

Newborns cannot make taurine in their bodies and so depend on breast or formula milk for their supply. Taurine increases blood levels of prolactin, which triggers the production and release of breast milk in the nursing mother. High levels of taurine are found in human breast milk, which reflects the important role it plays in proper development and growth. 

At times of stress on the body, such as extreme physical exertion, taurine may not be produced in sufficient quantities. Lack of adequate vitamin B6 may lead to excessive taurine excretion in the urine. Vegans, whose diets do not contain animal products, may be at risk of deficiency and will require supplementation.

Functions of Taurine

  • It is a major constituent of bile, which aids the digestion of fats in the small intestine and may assist in maintaining normal cholesterol levels
  • Aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Liver detoxification – it works as an antioxidant and combines with toxic substances to assist their elimination from the body
  • Helps maintain normal cardiac function
  • May support normal insulin function
  • Supports normal blood pressure
  • Maintains eye health
  • Aids the movement of potassium, calcium and sodium in the cells
  • Helps increase muscle mass and strength
  • Shows anti-convulsive effects
  • May enhance sperm motility

Food Sources

  • Meat and organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

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