Due to the surge in popularity of energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster, taurine has become a part of our everyday vocabulary. In spite of the controversy surrounding this ingredient, it is actually an element that has always existed naturally, and our bodies even produce it.
In this article, we explain what taurine is, what foods and drinks contain it, and the benefits and side effects or dangers of this substance.
Taurine is derived from the amino acid, cysteine, that our body makes naturally and that is also present in many foods.
Its curious story goes all the way back to 1827 — a time during which German scientists, Friedrich Tiedemann, and Leopold Gmelin isolated it for the first time from a sample of bull bile.
In humans, it can be found in many organs like the heart, as well as in the muscles, platelets, and the entire nervous system.
This substance stimulates the nervous system which is why the body seeks it out in high-stress situations or during intense physical activity. Since it's a stimulant, currently taurine is mass produced in synthetic form, which has made it the main ingredient in energy drinks like Red Bull.
However, the consumption of these beverages has generated much controversy since some studies show that, in excess, taurine can seriously harm the body. Knowing that our bodies make this substance naturally, eating a healthy and balanced diet should be enough to maintain healthy levels of this amino acid in your system.
As we mentioned, natural taurine is found in a wide variety of both plant-based and animal products. However, as of late, you can find many drinks on the market where this artificially made amino acid is the main ingredient.
Your body gets all of the taurine that it needs just by eating a balanced diet, which is why it isn't necessary to seek out substances made using chemical processes.
Foods that contain the highest levels of this substance come from the sea. Among these, you'll find octopus and most seafood. Most culinary creations with ingredients like raw or boiled fish (never fried) are great options for someone that wants a good energy boost.
On the same note, poultry like chicken can also contain plenty of taurine, especially muscle meat. Other meaty foods rich in this substance are pork and beef.
As far as plant-based foods, there are many legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and white beans that are all rich in taurine. Besides, nuts like hazelnuts and almonds, or soy and algae are also known for their high levels of this amino acid.
As we mentioned before, in recent years, Red Bull and Monster energy drinks have reached an all-time high as far as popularity. Among them, it seems that those that contain taurine as the main ingredient are the most popular.
At first, these drinks were designed with athletes in mind -to maximize their hearts' performance while exercising, especially in the world of bodybuilding. However, later on, some popular soft drink companies combined this substance with others like caffeine to increase physical and intellectual alertness as well.
If consumed in moderation, there's no reason for these drinks to put your health in danger. However, you shouldn't forget that this compound is synthetic, which is why it's always better to opt for natural food options.
Besides, these drinks are also full of sugar and carbonation which are detrimental to health.
On the other hand, those with high blood pressure are advised against consuming this product and combining taurine with depressant substances like alcohol. This is because this mix could provoke abnormal heart rhythms.
First and foremost, we need to specify that when we talk about the possible benefits of taurine, we're referring only to consumption in its natural form. This is because when it is made synthetically or is present in a drink in its synthetic form, it is also combined with many other undesirable additives.
This substance still undergoes studies which try to uncover each and every one of its therapeutic properties and benefits, although its discovery occurred over a century ago.
Currently, we know that taurine promotes protein synthesis, which helps the body to absorb the proteins that we consume much more easily. Besides, nutritional supplements that include this are widely used to boost bone growth and development.
Other benefits of this substance are related to its impact on the neuromotor system, that helps consumers to stay focused, and maximizes intellectual and physical performance.
Finally, moderate consumption of taurine in its natural state can help people to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
As we've mentioned on many occasions, taurine is a substance that's popular, yet highly controversial. The debates on this substance revolve around the adverse effects that the synthetic variety can have on the body.
Some research makes a connection between the amino acid made from chemical and artificial compounds and physical conditions like high blood pressure, strokes, heart problems, and even seizures.
Due to the risk that this implies for one's health, energy drinks like Red Bull with taurine were taken off the market in some Northern European countries and linked to the cause of death of many consumers of these beverages.
Harris, R. & Wen, S. (2012). Review: Taurine: A "very essential" amino acid. Molecular Vision, 18: 2673–2686.
Schuller-Levis, Georgia B. & Park, E. (2003). Taurine: new implications for an old amino acid. FEMS Microbiology Letters, 226: 195–202.