• Photo for Taurine: Miracle supplement or the next ephedra?
    Photo Credit: istockphoto

Taurine: Miracle supplement or the next ephedra?

By Damin Esper

You've seen those energy drinks lined up in the cooler at the corner market. Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster, Nos. Both Arizona Green Tea and Sobe Tea have versions of them as well.

They all have one key ingredient in common: Taurine.

But what is Taurine?

It's an amino sulfonic acid found naturally in most animals, including humans. It's a key component of bile and aids in the digestive process plus it is an antioxidant.

It's also a key ingredient in cat food.

So what's it doing in all these energy drinks? Does taurine give you wings? And why do weightlifters take it in conjunction with creatine and steroids?

Taurine has acquired a reputation as helping temper anxiety and hyperactivity. It is alleged to hydrate the brain and help with poor brain function. That sounds great, but there's not a lot of research to supports these ideas.

As for bodybuilders, taurine allegedly accentuates the effects of creatine and steroids. However, there's at least one study that found taurine helped laboratory rats lose weight when eating a high-fat diet, which would seem to be the opposite of a bodybuilder's goal.

Taurine also is touted as helping muscle cells hold more water, increasing their volume. This would cause the muscles to appear more “full.” Again, scientific evidence supporting this claim is scant.

Taurine occurs naturally in the human body and helps break down fats during digestion. It also works with potassium, calcium and sodium and helps to maintain cell integrity. Taurine deficiency can lead to vision problems.

Most adults have plenty of taurine in their systems and don't even use all that is there.

Vegans would seem to be the most likely adults to suffer from a taurine deficiency as their diet contains little of it. However, most vegans produce enough taurine in their own bodies that they suffer no health problems.

Taurine is especially important for the development of children. In the 1970s, it was discovered that formula fed pre-term infants had taurine deficiencies.

According to a paper by Timothy C. Birdsall, taurine has been used to treat patients with cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure. Birdsall also reported it can be used to treat children with cystic fibrosis. Taurine can work as a sedative and has been used to treat epilepsy. It has also been used on hepatitis patients.

One of its more interesting therapeutic uses is for alcoholics. Alcohol is known to moderate the effects of taurine. Conversely, according to Birdsall, several studies have shown that taurine can help alcoholics stay sober. About half of all alcoholics relapse within three months of treatment. In one trial, those treated with taurine had higher abstinence rates and longer periods of abstinence than those who were given a placebo.

At any rate, the benefits of taurine in energy drinks and supplements are questionable, but it doesn’t appear to be the next ephedra. So enjoy your taurine-rich Red Bull or cat food.