Do you eat a plant-based diet or limit meat consumption? You may be lacking an important amino acid needed for vision, calming the nerves, brain health, detoxification, bile acid production, cardiovascular health, and more. Discover why you need taurine for health and vitality.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is considered a semi-essential amino acid. Your liver makes small amounts of it from the amino acids cysteine and methionine. This process requires pyridoxal-5-phosphate or coenzyme vitamin B6. An estimated 50-125 milligrams of taurine is made every day, while about 100 times more, or about 70 grams of taurine, is stored in tissues of a healthy 150 pound adult. This gives credence to the vast usage of it.
Animal proteins, like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy provide taurine, but plants fail to contain any appreciable amounts. If you consume only a plant-based diet, your taurine tissue stores become depleted over time. Tissue levels of taurine also decline with age, stress, illness, xenobiotic and toxin exposure, and with suboptimal liver function.
Infants and children have a high need for taurine during growth and development. This is one reason why taurine is supplemented in formulas and animal proteins are important for growth.
Taurine is found in highly active tissues, especially the heart and skeletal muscles, brain, eyes, liver, plasma, and some white blood cell types like leucocytes and neutrophils. Scientists have found taurine in the pancreas, bones, and testicles and other tissues.
Fundamental to Cellular Homeostasis
Taurine is a considered a “fundamental mediator of homeostasis” and a “very essential” amino acid for its numerous functions. It protects against oxidative and inflammatory stress and regulates several physiological mechanisms.
Sufficient taurine is necessary to maintain cellular homeostasis with “osmoregulation” which regulates water and other fluids in and out of cells. It helps manage cell volume, stabilization of cell membrane, calcium movement in and out of cells, detoxification, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support and more. Here are a few select highlights about taurine and how it helps cells manage stress and activity.
Eyes, Retina, and Light Stress
Vision is generally considered the most dominant sense used to take in information. This very high activity sensory organ creates a high need for taurine.The lens, cornea, and especially the retina contain very high concentrations of taurine.
Retinal tissues depend heavily on optimal levels of taurine more so than any other amino acid for vision. Taurine protects the retina from light stress (sunlight, artificial lights) as this stimulus causes release of glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter used by your brain for alertness. It is also released in the eye in response to light and processing information. Taurine buffers against glutamate stress.
Taurine protects against light-induced tissue stress that contributes to breakdown of sensitive lipids in the retina. Taurine shields photoreceptors which helps sustain healthy vision. Taurine has also been found to help regenerate aging retinal cells.
A recent 2021 animal study demonstrated the loss of eye-retina protection when taurine levels were depleted by stressors including light exposure. Insufficient taurine levels in the eye led to thinning of the retina, shortening of photoreceptors, increased oxidative stress that caused microglial cell activation and damage to nerve cells and its connections to other nerves, ultimately affecting vision quality.
Think about taurine in context with youth who don’t eat animal proteins and spend substantial amount of time in front of screens. What is their eye health going to be like in 20-30 years? What about the elderly who do not eat meat and have failing vision?
Taurine and Brain Health
Abundant amounts of taurine are found in the brain where it is needed for neurodevelopment in the young and neuro-regeneration as we age. Taurine helps dampen pain signals, affects body temperature regulation, and suppresses appetite. Its antioxidant effect protects nerve tissue from changes in tissue oxygenation. Taurine is also necessary to maintain cerebellar function and supports the hippocampus as you age.
The cerebellum is the part of your brain that provides balance, movement, coordination, and hand-eye coordination. Activities that require practice like playing the piano, catching a ball, or riding a bicycle engage the cerebellum. The hippocampus is the memory center of your brain.
Taurine provides stability to nerves in other ways. It helps calm nerve excitation and irritability, as taurine attaches to GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is the main inhibitory/calming neurotransmitter. This interaction helps buffer and defend against the effects of excessive glutamate and excitation.
Taurine, Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle
Large amounts of taurine are found in your skeletal and cardiac muscles. Muscles use taurine for mitochondrial function, antioxidant protection and burning fats for muscle energy and power. It also helps calcium management for contraction-relaxation in skeletal and heart muscles.
Long-term taurine supplementation in animal studies showed taurine improved muscle strength and cellular metabolism in burning glucose. Taurine use also lowered levels of TNF-a and other inflammatory markers.
In various human studies, taurine demonstrated positive effects in managing exercise stress in skeletal muscles and cardiovascular tissues. Results showed taurine supported regeneration of muscle fibers and protected against exercise-induced arterial stiffness and endothelial lining stress
Taurine increases cell membrane stability, which helps calcium and sodium move in and out of cells appropriately rather than build-up in the wrong places. This is especially important for cellular homeostasis and proper electrical activity in your heart, blood vessels, muscles and brain.
Taurine is a key nutrient in the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Taurine supports parasympathetic tone (rest/relaxation) and promotes relaxation of blood vessels and heart. It also helps platelets resist clumping together.
Taurine and Mitochondria
As described earlier, highly active tissues contain substantial amounts of taurine. These same tissues also contain large amounts of mitochondria, which also need taurine.
Due to its antioxidant activities, taurine helps protect mitochondria and the electron transport chain. It also helps protect the membranes in and around mitochondria. Mitochondria are your cell’s battery and energy producers that are directly related with vitality.
Taurine and Liver
Taurine is one of many nutrients used by the liver for detoxification, bile acid production, and antioxidant protection. It helps protect the liver and other organs from alcohol, heavy metals, plastics, herbicides/pesticides, and other toxins. It also assists in cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism within the liver. Liver cells become highly stressed when taurine reserves are lacking.
Although your body can make small amounts of it, taurine is necessary for critical functions and must be in plentiful supply. As many individuals are drawn to plant-based diets or other diet types with minimal animal protein, the effects of limited taurine intake creates profound stress.
Fluid management in and out of cells, cell membrane integrity, mitochondrial function, eyes and vision, heart and blood vessels, brain, muscles, liver and bile acid production suffer without adequate taurine. These functions along with taurine’s impact on other aspects of liver function, gallbladder, pancreas and insulin, blood sugar and cholesterol metabolism, immune cell activity, kidneys, bone, male gonad health and sperm motility, etc. make it a critical nutrient to consume in your diet.
If your dietary pattern has trended toward the “flexitarian diet” or semi-vegetarian diet, or a full vegetarian diet, the benefits may be undermined from the lack of taurine. Make sure taurine is part of your aging well nutritional regime. Your eyes, heart, brain, muscles, liver, and mitochondria, etc. will work and feel better.