Taurine is commonly associated with energy drinks or sports beverages. People might have wondered if taurine is usually added into such products, does that mean people who are not active do not need taurine? Taurine may not seem like the most important substance needed by the body but in fact it does exist abundantly in almost all cells that makes a human body a functioning multicellular organism, whether athletic or not. In fact, taurine is also added to infant milk formula to help mimic the beneficial effect of what maternal breast milk can give.
Taurine is an amino acid. Although it does not make up protein, it regulates fundamental events in cells that eventually affect the human body’s physiological function. Humans are capable of producing their own taurine but it is usually not enough to maintain its optimum level. Thus, in order to get more taurine, an adult human has to eat food containing taurine which mainly comes from animals such as beef, fish, chicken, turkey and shellfish (muscles, oysters, scallops) or might just consider taking supplements. Since the baby is yet to be able produce taurine, they can only receive taurine from the placenta and breastfed milk. For infants, taurine is considered as an essential amino acid. Even though in adults, taurine is deemed to be conditionally essential amino acid, people with low levels of taurine are susceptible to diseases.
What happens when a human has taurine deficiency?
1- Susceptible to eye disorder. A huge amount of taurine can be found in the eye area, most concentrated in the eye’s retina (an eye structure that receives images seen and helps the brain to interpret). Taurine deficiency can lead to fastening retinal degeneration and causing eyesight problems ranging from blurry images to total blindness such as cataract.
2- Susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases. Neurodegenerative diseases are diseases that usually affect an elderly due to the ageing process. Examples of such diseases are Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. As a person ages, so do the cells in the body. These ageing cells can lose the function to regenerate or function abnormally due to accumulation of oxidative stress that damages cells over time and the increased inflammatory response. Taurine actually acts as neuroprotective agents and deficiency of taurine could exacerbate the cell damage.
3- Susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular involves the heart and the blood vessels. Taurine helps protect the blood vessel and the cardiac cell (heart cell) from the damaging oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can cause the blood vessel to work improperly and cause more blood clots. Deficiency of taurine may lead someone to higher risk for cardiovascular diseases such as congestive heart failure, hypertension and atherosclerosis.
4- Impaired growth in infancy. Babies receiving low levels of taurine or not getting enough taurine from breast milk, show signs of growth problems such as small babies in size and low weight. The development of brain and eye among these babies can also be greatly affected by taurine deficiency.
5- Worsening symptoms in people with stress-related psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety disorder have been known to be caused by disruption of brain chemicals such as serotonin. Both of these disorders may stem from the same processes in the brain. Deficiency in taurine has been known to cause development of depression and supplementation of taurine helps to improve a patient’s mood.
6- Risk of obesity. Taurine has been proposed to help with metabolism of lipid (fat), anti-oxidative effect, anti-inflammatory effect, stimulation of energy expenditure and anorexic effect (suppressing appetite). When these taurine effects cease, it can elevate risk for obesity.