People worldwide are constantly looking for and pursuing ways to improve their health, well-being, fitness, and athletic performance without resorting to drugs, steroids, and other substances. There is a significant amount of research in this area, with the majority centered on food, vitamins, herbs, and other supplements. Taurine is an essential component of this trend.
This article seeks to highlight, in detail, the health benefits of taurine and its functions in sports performance.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is a sulfur-containing β-amino acid found in significant amounts in most cells, with a vastly higher concentration in excitable tissues. It is concentrated in your eyes, heart, muscles, bile, and brain.
Taurine has immense nutritional value and implications for overall well-being . Researchers believe that these nutritional values could be particularly seen in animal species such as the fox and band cat [2-5]. Interestingly, taurine deficiency in these animal species can result in various pathological diseases and a significant reduction in lifespan [6-7].
Humans do not generate sufficient amounts of taurine; yet, the retentive capability of human tissues is greater than that of cats or foxes. As a result, the symptoms of taurine deficiency are rare in humans.
Just to name some of its health benefits, dietary taurine consumption reduces the risk of hypercholesterolemia and hypertension [8-9]. Taurine supplementation can reduce body mass index (BMI) and inflammation markers in obese women . As can be seen, taurine’s cytoprotective functions are critical for improving human nutritional and clinical health.
What are the Food Sources of Taurine?
Taurine is primarily found in proteins such as seafood, dairy, and poultry. These include:
- Seafood including clams, octopus, shrimp
Because plants do not contain enough taurine, people who follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet have lower taurine levels than those who regularly consume animal proteins. Notably, taurine deficiency is uncommon in humans because the body produces taurine. Still, getting it from nutritional sources is important to maintain its optimum levels.
How Does Taurine Work Inside Your Body?
As previously stated, taurine functions through various mechanisms. These include:
1. Taurine’s Antioxidant Actions:
One of the primary ways taurine exerts its cytoprotective functions is through its antioxidant activity. Oxidative stress is the toxic waste build-up inside your cells that damages your cells and their DNAs. First, taurine neutralizes the cellular pro-oxidant chemicals such as hypochlorous acid. Second, it helps reduce the levels of another pro-oxidant called superoxide radicals. Finally, most of the oxidative stress results due to faulty energy generation inside mitochondria- the energy house of the cell. Taurine helps stabilize the function of mitochondria and reduces the oxidative burden [11-13].
2. Taurine as a Regulator of Gene Expression:
Taurine’s gene-regulating actions can cause genetic changes . Researchers have discovered various taurine-sensitive genes that contribute to many cellular functions, such as cell signaling, cell cycle progression, amino acid metabolism, protein biosynthesis, and more .
3. The Inhibitory Neuromodulator Effect of Taurine:
Taurine’s neuromodulatory activity is an important mechanism that affects the central nervous system (CNS). CNS dysfunction occurs when there is an imbalance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals between the brain cells- the neurons.
Among the inhibitory neurotransmitters, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the most important. A decrease in the CNS levels of GABA or a fall in the GABA receptor activity results in neuronal hyperexcitability. This is when you get anxiety and mood disorders. Taurine is a weak agonist of the GABA receptors, so it can partially replace GABA in inducing neuronal excitability inhibition . In simple words, taurine acts on GABA receptors and mimics its action and can therefore help in conditions resulting from a decline in GABA levels.
4. Taurine as a Regulator of Cellular Quality Control Processes:
As your cells age, they whiter, build up toxins, and their DNA becomes faulty. Autophagy is a cellular process through which a cell ‘eats itself’ or ‘commits suicide’ in an attempt to eliminate the build-up of toxins and degraded DNA.
Taurine regulates cellular quality control processes such as autophagy and the ubiquitin-proteasome system. These control processes either reactivate or eliminate subcellular organelles through degradation or cell death .
Another mechanism through which taurine helps the cells is by modulating the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. ER is a small structure within the cells that is responsible for giving the final touches to the proteins by controlling how they fold. The folding of proteins is crucial for their function. Taurine restores protein folding by lowering oxidative stress or creating a better environment for protein folding; thereby restoring ER function .
5. Taurine as a Potent Modulator of Ca2+ Homeostasis:
Calcium (Ca2+) is a key mineral in your body. It helps neurons deliver impulses and aids trigger muscle contraction. However, too much movement of calcium inside the neurons can be toxic and can cause them to fire abnormally. Taurine offers neuroprotective action by promoting a healthy level of Ca2+ inside the neurons by preventing the excessive inside movement (influx) of Ca2+ from the surroundings to inside the cells .
6. Taurine has a Key Role in Energy Metabolism:
One of the most crucial actions of taurine is its ability to regulate cellular energy metabolism. Your bile is also rich in taurine. The reason being your gut cannot directly absorb lipids. Taurine in the bile mixes with the lipids and helps in their absorption. Also, taurine influences the key mitochondrial processes involved in the generation of energy from fatty acids (fatty acid oxidation). Finally, taurine activates several enzymes (like complex I and NADH) that are pivotal to mitochondrial energy generation .
7. Taurine as a potent osmoregulatory agent:
Taurine levels fluctuate in response to osmotic loads and hypo-osmotic stress. In other words, it controls how much water enters the cells and regulates the levels of other key minerals such as sodium (Na+). It also makes taurine essential for regulating cellular transport and membrane potential. It acts as a weak natriuretic and diuretic agent in the kidney, which is necessary to improve renal function .
What are the Health Benefits of Taurine?
Taurine’s cytoprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties make it essential for managing various clinical conditions and promoting good health.
But what does all of the above science mean for your health?
Good question! Following are the health benefits of taurine.
1. The Functions of Taurine in the Central Nervous System
Due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties, taurine can reduce the risk of stroke and its many side effects. It can also reduce the neurological and physical consequences of traumatic brain injury . Through its antioxidant effect, taurine can treat photoreceptor loss and retinal degeneration by reducing the impact of oxidative stress. Chronic deprivation of taurine can cause blindness- a condition called taurine retinopathy .
Additional research indicates that taurine protects ear hair cells, preventing hearing loss. As a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory agent, taurine is effective in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. Taurine prevents seizures and neuronal hyperexcitability in epileptic patients.
Research at Inha University, South Korea found that supplementation of taurine (3g/day) can improve cognitive performance and slow down the progression of dementia. In the research, participants who consumed taurine-based supplements performed better in cognitive tests compared to the control group .
2. Taurine Benefits on the Cardiovascular System
Taurine is one of the best amino acids when it comes to heart health.
Taurine supplementation is essential for blood pressure regulation, treating congestive heart failure, hypertension, atherosclerosis, Ischemia-reperfusion injury, myocardial arrhythmias, and improving overall heart function in people with cardiovascular diseases .
A study at Kyoto University, Japan showed that taurine supplementation (6g/day) significantly reduced the blood levels of cholesterol and ‘bad’ fats in individuals on a high-fat diet .
Research also suggests that taurine treatment significantly reduces total cholesterol, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein levels in subjects with heart failure. Furthermore, taurine lowers blood pressure by decreasing blood flow resistance in the vascular walls and improving the efficiency of skeletal and heart muscle contractions .
3. Taurine’s Functions in Metabolic Diseases
Metabolic disorders such as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome are a scourge of the modern era.
Clinical trial evidence suggests that taurine therapy reduces the prevalence of pathology associated with obesity, metabolic syndromes, and diabetes. Taurine helps with hyperglycemia by improving respiratory function, increasing ATP production, decreasing insulin secretion, and preventing hyperglycemia-induced oxidative stress and insulin resistance. These actions are critical in the fight against type II diabetes, its complications, and the resulting obesity.
Researchers studied the effects of 8-week taurine supplementation (2.5 g/day) on body composition and diabetes control in a group of females with type 2 diabetes. Results were promising and showed that compared to the control group, females using taurine experienced at least 3 kg weight loss, a 0.5-point reduction in HbA1c levels, and a significant decline in cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin resistance .
4. The Benefits of Taurine in Muscles
- Taurine Regulates Muscle Contraction: Taurine deficiency can result in skeletal and cardiac muscle contractile dysfunction. Studies show that taurine administration can increase muscular contractility and reduce myofibril (the fundamental working units of muscle fibers) disruption .
- Taurine’s Impact on Sarcopenia: Sarcopenia is the loss of skeletal muscle tissue caused by an imbalance in protein biosynthesis and degradation. In a normal individual, there exists a discreet balance between these two processes. In disease and aging, the balance shifts in the favor of muscle degradation. Taurine supplementation helps shift this balance in the favor of muscle protein biosynthesis .
- Taurine’s Effect on Conditions Affecting Muscles: Duchenne muscular dystrophy is characterized by severe muscle wasting, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Taurine can effectively inhibit the various steps involved in the development of Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy by replenishing taurine levels that are depleted following the muscle disorder. Terrill added that in mouse models of muscular dystrophy treated with 4% taurine for 14 days, taurine content increased, reducing inflammation (neutrophil infiltration) and mitigating the effects of severe muscle breakdown .
What are the Effects of Taurine on Sports Performance?
Let’s move on to answering the million-dollar question!
Does taurine help improve sports or athletic performance? Is it worth investing in taurine-based supplements?
The simple answer is ‘Yes’!
There is extensive literature on this topic suggesting that regular taurine supplementation causes a significant boost in athletic and sports performance.
Sports athletes worldwide are constantly looking for dietary supplements that can boost overall athletic performance. Taurine is the most prevalent nutritional supplement due to its association with metabolic stress, muscle soreness and recovery, and aerobic and anaerobic performance. At the same time, its mechanisms of action improve sports performance.
Following are the various ways taurine improves athletic performance:
1. Taurine’s Impact on Fat Metabolism
As mentioned, taurine plays a key role in activating fat metabolism. It escalates the breakdown of body fat- a process called lipolysis. Acute taurine supplementation triggers the release of body chemicals such as Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGFs). Normally, your body utilizes glucose and glycogen as an energy source before tapping into your fat reserves. But a heightened level of FGFs channels energy production mainly from fats instead of glycogen stores. This can help you achieve fat loss .
2. Taurine’s Effect on Mitochondrial Function
Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. It is home to a series of extremely complicated cellular processes that result in the generation of energy in the form of ATP. Taurine helps improve mitochondrial function by triggering mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondrial biogenesis is a process through which the mitochondria increase in size and number. It also prevents mitochondrial dysfunction due to its antioxidant effects . In other words, taurine makes your mitochondria more efficient at energy generation, which leads to superior athletic performance.
3. Taurine’s Impact on Muscle Gains
Researchers at Massey University, New Zealand studied the effects of taurine supplementation post-training on muscle breakdown. Scientists studied the levels of the markers of muscle breakdown (namely Creatine Kinase or CK) among the control and taurine groups over the next three days. Results showed that the taurine group had significantly lower levels of CK compared to the control group .
Any exercise or athletic activity is a time of immense protein turnover when your body loses more proteins than it can form. That’s why the recovery period is crucial. Supplementing your post-workout routine with taurine can provide your muscles with the raw materials needed for muscle recovery.
4. Taurine’s Impact on Aerobic and Anaerobic Metabolism
The ability of taurine to improve aerobic and anaerobic metabolism is due to its effects on lipid metabolism, gene stimulation, respiratory function, and mitochondrial biogenesis- all processes explained in the earlier text. Taurine increases exhaustion time and improves athletic performance by improving aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.
5. Taurine’s Impact on Inflammation and Oxidative Stress During Exercise
Taurine prevents vascular permeability caused by the increased neutrophil influx and proinflammatory cytokine production during exercise. Research suggests that pre-workout taurine supplementation reduces the levels of inflammatory markers, like interleukins, post-workout .
Taurine supplementation reduces oxidative stress by reducing superoxide radical production, and lipid peroxidation, and by increasing the levels of antioxidants.
6. How does Taurine Impacts Glucose Metabolism During Exercise?
There has been little research into how Taurine affects glucose metabolism; however, Taurine increases insulin secretion and calcium handling, regulates the cAMP/PKA pathways, and maintains glucose concentration. These are important for exercise and sports performance because these pathways stimulate hypertrophy, glycolysis, muscle recovery, and modulate glucose levels. Despite this, there has been no research on Taurine’s role in human glucose metabolism during sports and exercise; Taurine’s impact has only been observed in animal and in vitro studies .
Is Taurine Suitable for Everyone?
According to research, taurine has little to no adverse effects when appropriately implemented. However, taking Taurine with other medications can result in side effects because it acts as a cytochrome P450 enzyme inhibitor, interfering with medicines that rely on the enzyme to be metabolized.
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