Taurine is a derivative of the amino acids methionine and cysteine. It is not like other amino acids because it contains a sulphur atom where normally the carboxylic acid group would be situated. Taurine is essential in some animals such as cats, but not humans. Taurine can either be synthesised endogenously or derived from dietary sources. Unlike other amino acids taurine is not utilised in protein, but it does have some other interesting properties.
Taurine appears to play a role in cellular charge and in this regard is an important regulator of cell membrane stability. In particular taurine may play a role in maintaining the stability of the heartbeat and protect brain cells from over excitement. Its membrane stabilising properties may also make tauring essential for correct vision. Studies have shown that the ability of taurine to stabilise brain cell activity may make it useful at reducing seizures in epileptics.
Taurine In Food
Taurine intake from food can vary depending on the content of the diet. Estimates of intake vary from around 500 mg per day to up to 2500 mg per day. Cottage cheese, cheese, granola, wild game, pork, milk, turkey, yoghurt and eggs are all good sources of taurine. Concentrations of taurine are generally much higher in animal than plant products and so those with a high animal protein intake likely consume significantly more taurine.
Supplements of taurine are available from health food stores. Studies investigating the effects of taurine supplements on congestive heart failure have shown that between 1 and 4 grams of taurine are effective at improving the condition. In addition, taurine may have blood pressure lowering effects. Therefore its ability to regulate heartbeat and cause reductions in elevated blood pressure may make taurine an effective cardioprotective nutrient.
Fatty Liver Disease
Another role for taurine may be the ability of the amino acid to increase the oxidation of fats from the liver. Fatty liver can be caused by overconsumption of either fructose or ethanol. As fats accumulate in the liver they cause metabolic damage and this can over time lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Taurine may be able to prevent this damage, as animal experiments have shown the ability of taurine to reduce the severity of fatty liver in mice.