What Is Taurine? Separating Myth from Reality

What Is Taurine?

Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, was isolated from bull bile back in 1827. However, nowadays it’s most commonly found in the form of a supplement. That brings us to energy drinks. Did you know that the rate of emergency room visits has doubled over the past few years due to energy drinks? It’s no secret that they have a ton of caffeine. Some of them also contain taurine. Red Bull, for example, contains taurine, but just how much and is it safe? According to the Red Bull website, our bodies naturally contain 70 percent more taurine than one can of Red Bull.

However, according the the European Food Safety Authority, even though taurine is used at higher levels in most energy drinks, it seems that there are “no observed adverse effect level” if consuming up to 3,000 milligrams per day of supplemental taurine. Half a can contains 125 milliliters, which means that unless you consume multiple cans per day, you’re probably OK in regard to taurine levels. Having said that, I wouldn’t take this for granted, especially considering the number of side effects and emergency room visits many energy drinks may induce — plus, energy drinks contain toxins and harmful ingredients you should avoid. That’s why I strongly discourage folks from consuming popular energy drinks that are high in sugar, caffeine and who knows what in general.

Taurine does have benefits, such as potentially helping keep the heart healthy, working as an antioxidant, helping stimulate the muscles to offer better performance for athletes, and providing relaxing, sedative effects that could help someone with neurological disorders. Wait, relaxing effect and energy drinks? That doesn’t match up. More than likely, the energy from those drinks comes from a boatload of caffeine and sugar, not the taurine.

But the question still lies: Are energy drinks safe? Recently, I was saddened to hear about a teenager in South Carolina who, according to the coroner, died of a caffeine overdose. The teen had consumed three different beverages in a short period of time, one of which was an energy drink. He had no previous heart condition, but the large amount of caffeine caused arrhythmia. When this happens, the heart beats either too fast, too slow or erratically.

There was no mention of taurine in this report. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does state that caffeine, in doses up to 400 milligrams or approximately five cups of coffee, is considered generally safe. According to research, however, drinking 32 ounces of an energy drink may cause harmful circumstances relating to blood pressure and heart function unlike what may happen with caffeine alone. With more than 500 energy drink products on the market today, it’s no surprise that the number of emergency room visits associated with their consumption has risen tremendously.

So in short, no, energy drinks are not good for you, whether they contain taurine or not. But that doesn’t mean taurine should be dismissed entirely, as it is beneficial and naturally occurring in the body. So what is taurine good for? Let’s take a look.

What Is Taurine? History of Taurine

There’s not alot of information about the history of taurine in terms of how it became so popular, but what we know is that it’s named after the Latin taurus, which means bull or ox, because it was first isolated from ox bile in 1827 by German scientists Friedrich Tiedemann and Leopold Gmelin.

Regardless, as previously noted, taurine does not come from bulls, but rather is naturally produced in the body or is synthetically produced, which is the form found in energy drinks. The European Food Safety Authority, the organization that assesses risk issues of food in the European Union, states that “the exposure of taurine at levels presently used in energy drinks is not of a safety concern.” This statement was reconfirmed by the EFSA in 2015.

Precautions/Side Effects with Taurine

To reiterate, according to numerous health and safety regulations, taurine is deemed as generally safe to consume, but it’s important to take everything in moderation. Consult your doctor before consuming taurine, and when possible, simply get it through a balanced diet.

A few words of precaution, however. Taurine has been used safely in adults in some studies and has been given safely to children. Research studies have not reported any common side effects to date. One report of brain damage in a body-builder has been documented when the bodybuilder took taurine combined with insulin and steroids, though it’s not confirmed that the combination or the taurine caused the brain damage.

More studies are needed to understand the safety of taurine during pregnancy and breast-feeding. It may be best to avoid its use. It’s been noted that too much taurine may cause bipolar disorder to worsen over time. One case has been reported based on a 36-year-old man who consumed several servings of Red Bull Energy Drink over a period of four days. However, it’s uncertain as to whether the cause was from taurine or the combination of numerous ingredients found in the product.

Final Thoughts on What Is Taurine