Taurine - an Essential Non-Protein Amino Acid

Taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid is the second most abundant amino acid in the body, and the most abundant free amino acid, found in skeletal muscle tissue. Although it’s one of the few amino acids not directly used for protein synthesis, it can indirectly increase protein synthesis and has a myriad of functions in the body.


Taurine is often considered a non-essential or hesitantly a conditionally essential amino acid for humans since it can be synthesized by the body. However, the limiting enzyme required for biosynthesis of taurine is very low in humans and biosynthesis may not be adequate for times when the need for taurine are increased. Because of these limits, and to make sure there’s enough taurine available when needed, taurine has been added to infant formula as well as to intravenous solutions used for various medical conditions.


Because of its many functions and suboptimal levels in most people, I consider taurine an essential amino acids for anyone looking to improve body composition (add muscle and reduce body fat) and/or increase exercise/sports performance.[1][2]


Taurine is highest in meat and seafood and the average person, non vegan, takes in around 60 mg per day. However, ten to twenty times that amount is used for various purposes including energy drinks, nutritional supplements for improving body composition and performance, and also for improving various conditions and sometimes simply for increasing health and wellbeing.


Vegan intake of taurine is usually much lower than non-vegans and I always recommend taurine supplementation for vegans, especially vegan athletes, as well as several other forms of supplementation, depending on how carefully a vegan structures their diets, including vitamins D, B2, B12, B6, and niacin, zinc, iron, selenium, calcium, L-carnitine, carnosine and/or beta-alanine, omega-3 fatty acids, and creatine.[3][4][5]


Effects on Performance


Taurine is a nutrient that enhances the training effect by its many roles in improving skeletal muscle function including increasing growth hormone and IGF-1, and decreasing inflammation, muscle soreness, and injury.[6]


As well, taurine has immune system benefits, insulin like effects as far as increasing protein synthesis and decreasing muscle breakdown and cell volumizing effects.The volumizing effect on certain nutrients on muscle cells is also felt to lead to an increase in protein synthesis.


Over the years, oral taurine administration has been shown to help muscle cramping in patients with liver cirrhosis and myotonic dystrophy. Several studies have suggested that it may also help to alleviate muscle soreness and cramps occurring during and after exercise.[7]


A study on rats showed that taurine is useful for reducing physical fatigue, muscle damage, and exercise induced muscle injury during exercise training, presumably due to its antioxidant effects and the beneficial effects that taurine has on metabolism and on muscle and cardiac functions.[8]


Another study on rats has shown that oral taurine supplementation may increase muscle performance and reduce muscle injury caused by exercise.[9] The aim of the study was to determine if increasing muscle levels of taurine would decrease free radical damage after exercise-induced injury. The authors found that first of all taurine levels rose in muscle after supplementation, and secondly that running performance was improved by the taurine supplementation. Thus it appears taurine supplementation may facilitate exercise performance and reduce some of the counterproductive muscle injury caused by exercise.


In humans, taurine supplementation in patients with heart failure increases their exercise capacity.[10] It’s been shown that taurine decreases oxidative stress in skeletal muscle after eccentric exercise[11] and that taurine may attenuate exercise-induced DNA damage and enhance the capacity of exercise due to its cellular protective properties.[12]


There is some evidence to show that taurine may enhance training further by decreasing training induced fatigue. One study found that Na+-K+-ATPase activity is depressed with fatigue, regardless of training state, suggesting that this may be an important determinant of fatigue.[13] Another paper associated fatigue and training with reduced Ca2+-ATPase activity.[14] Previous studies have shown that taurine stimulates Na+-K+-ATPase activity and also the pumping rate of the Ca2+-activated ATPase pump.


A recent study found that taurine administration increased taurine concentrations in skeletal muscles, reduced the decrease in taurine in skeletal muscles that is seen with exercise, increased physical endurance by increasing the duration of running time in rats, and was considered to reduce exercise-induced muscle fatigue.[15] Also taurine supplementation has been shown to increase skeletal muscle force production, protects muscle function and reduce oxidative stress.[16]


Taurine is one of the most abundant free amino acids in the testes and is instrumental in the production of testosterone and in fertility. A recent study concluded that taurine plays important roles in male reproduction and that a taurine supplement could stimulate the secretion of LH and T, increase the levels of testicular marker enzymes, elevate testicular antioxidation and improve sperm quality.[17][18][19][20][21]


Taurine also plays well with the branched chain amino acids (BCAA) as the combination has been shown to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle damage.[22] It’s also likely that the beneficial effects of both taurine and the BCAA on skeletal muscle function are enhanced by other nutrients such as beta-alanine and carnosine.[23]


Taurine is considered a potent antioxidant and cytoprotective agent that may be useful for combating the adverse effects of physical and psychological stress, and aging.[24],[25],[26],[27]


Taurine, because of its beneficial effects on skeletal muscle functioning may also be used therapeutically for skeletal muscle disorders.[28][29]


Body Composition Effects


Taurine has a number of effects in the body that contribute to weight and fat loss, and body composition, including beneficial effects on lipid metabolism and protein synthesis.[30]


An early study showed that taurine decreases bodyweight in obese mice.[31] Another study on 30 Japanese college students found that taurine is effective in reducing body weight and fat mass, possibly due to its beneficial effects on lipid metabolism.[32] As well it may have an important role in cardiovascular disease prevention in overweight or obese subjects. More recent studies have found that taurine supplementation can increase energy expenditure and the function of lipolytic enzymes, decrease body fat, especially visceral body fat, and has additive effects with exercise.[33][34]


Taurine has also been shown to increase glucose sensitivity and enhance mitochondrial metabolic function.[35] The data in this study suggest that taurine administration has a marked effect on lipid metabolism, and can therefore be beneficial to persons looking to lose body fat. Also that restoration of plasma taurine level could be critical in preventing or improving obesity-related -cell dysfunction.


Besides the effects on fat metabolism, taurine also has effects on cellular hydration that increases protein synthesis and thus decreases the loss of muscle with weight loss.[36]


Taurine has been shown to be an important amino acid in several tissues in the body, including muscle.[37] Because of it’s properties in skeletal muscle it’s been suggested as a treatment for various muscle disorders.[38]


A recent study found that taurine administration reduced the decrease in taurine in skeletal muscles in exercise, increased duration of running time in rats, and was considered to reduce exercise-induced muscle fatigue.[39] Also taurine supplementation has been shown to increase skeletal muscle force production, protects muscle function and reduce oxidative stress.[40]


While the evidence is circumstantial at present and a direct study linking the two research findings needs to be done, it’s quite possible that supplemental taurine, besides all the positive effects we know it has, may also reduce exercise induced fatigue.


Taurine, because of it’s effects on increasing insulin sensitivity, growth hormone levels, and protein synthesis (secondary to its effects on osmoregulation and cell volumizing[41],[42],[43]), helps to spare muscle when dieting, with the result that weight loss is mostly from the loss of body fat.


The bottom line is that taurine supplementation significantly enhances the body composition and performance benefits of exercise as well as improving health and well being.



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