When some people are tired or need a pick-me-up, they grab an energy drink to rev themselves up. Many energy drinks contain taurine, an ingredient that’s often scrutinized for its origins and its health risks. But what exactly is taurine and is it safe to consume in energy drinks and supplements?
What Is Taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid, but not an essential amino acid, which needs to come from your diet. It’s actually referred to as a conditional amino acid, which means that it’s made by the body and is mostly found in the heart and in the brain.
Contrary to popular belief, taurine is not derived from bull’s testicles although it can be found in the bile of a bull as well as in female cattle. Taurine is also commonly found in food sources such as meat and fish, but is often synthetically made for commercial products like energy drinks and supplements.
This amino acid is often added to those products because it’s said to improve athletic performance. It’s also commonly prescribed for people who suffer from conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver disease
- High cholesterol
- Cystic fibrosis
- Progressive eye conditions
Risks And Side Effects
Most energy drinks come with a warning that pregnant women, children and those sensitive to caffeine shouldn’t drink them. Some people associate this warning label with taurine rather than caffeine or any other ingredient, believing it may be responsible for certain side effects. But what side effects can taurine really cause and which ones are just a myth?
- Taurine can impair short-term memory: This side-effect is actually a myth. A study conducted on college students showed that taurine, in combination with caffeine, produces no effects on short-term memory.
- Taurine can affect your heart rate: This side effect has been found to be true. In the same study conducted on college students, researchers found that the students’ heart rates declined while their arterial blood pressure increased after ingesting taurine. Some researchers suggest that caffeine may have played a role in triggering this reaction.
The effects of both taurine and caffeine still need to be researched in depth, but many people suspect that the combination of the two can produce harmful side effects.
One combination that’s proven to be harmful is the mixture of energy drinks and alcohol. The combination of a stimulant and a depressant can lead to heart problems such as an abnormal heart rate. This combination can also cause dehydration since both act as diuretics.
While there’s been plenty of speculation about the risks and side effects of taurine, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about the benefits of taurine. Here are some of those benefits:
- Taurine has antioxidant properties – Taurine acts like an antioxidant to fight off free radicals and to protect the body’s cells from damage from oxidation.
- It can improve athletic performance – An Austrian study shows that taurine can improve the body’s capacity to transport oxygen and, in turn, increase the amount of time a person can be physically active without getting exhausted.
- Taurine can contribute to heart health – Taurine can reduce inflammation associated with coronary artery disease and can even prevent atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque along the arteries. Taurine can also reduce the effects of hypertension, or high blood pressure, and can increase the exercise capacity of those who have congestive heart failure.
- It can be beneficial to diabetics – Research suggests that lower levels of taurine in the body may contribute to the development of diabetes. Taurine supplements can reduce the risk of hyperglycemia and insulin resistance.
Some studies suggest that taurine may also have a positive impact on mental performance. Those studies show that taurine may improve memory and can even boost your mood, but these effects need to be researched further.
The Bottom Line
Although there’s been a lot of talk about taurine, many of the myths just aren’t true. Taurine is safe to consume and can improve the health of those with heart problems and other medical conditions.
Those who drink energy drinks with taurine should be aware that the taurine in those drinks may be synthetic and may not offer all of the benefits of taurine found in food sources or in the human body. Those energy drinks are also loaded with caffeine and sugar, which aren’t beneficial to your health. So if you want to drink energy drinks, drink them in moderation.
Moderation is also key for taking taurine supplements. Short-term use of taurine supplements is fine, but more research needs to be done on its long-term use. Taurine is not considered to be toxic and excess taurine is usually flushed out through the kidneys, so taking one to four grams of taurine daily, or even weekly, can provide you with great benefits without the harmful side effects.