People Love Taurine for Its Exercise-Boosting Potential—but Is It Legit?

Photo: Getty Images / Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm
Trying to hit a new PR at the gym? Sometimes breaking through a performance plateau can be frustrating—which is why some corners of the internet would recommend turning to supplements like taurine for a boost.

So what is taurine? “Our body makes taurine on its own and it is also found in some foods, mainly in animal products,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Real Nutrition. It's a sulfur amino acid, meaning that it has a sulfuric compound in it called sulfhydryl, and helps with protein structure in your body. There are several sulfur amino acids, but this one is called "taurine" because it was first discovered in the bile of bulls, says Steven Gundry, MD, author of The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age.

What's special about taurine? Research has found that the amino acid has certain potential antioxidant and metabolism-aiding properties, which is why it's a popular supplement ingredient. Here's what you should know about its potential benefits.

What are some taurine benefits I should know about?

1. It may be good for brain health. Taurine is one of the few antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier (a filtering mechanism in your body that prevents some substances from reaching the brain) Dr. Gundry says, which is why studies have shown it can help reduce seizures in those who have drug-resistant epilepsy (although this was a mouse study, so results aren't conclusive) and improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. “It may stimulate the growth of new brain neurons,” he adds.

2. It could help improve cholesterol and prediabetes. Animal studies have also showed that taurine may help reduce cholesterol levels by lowering triglycerides but again, take that with a grain of salt. There are human studies, however, that show taurine supplementation could reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome (risk factors that could predict diabetes and cardiovascular disease). 

3. It’s good for your eyes. “Taurine has been found to protect the eyes and repair the retina that is caused by oxidative damage and excessive exposure to light,” says Richard Firshein, DO, integrative and precision-based medicine expert and founder of the Firshein Center. Low taurine is found in those individuals that have cataracts later in life.” 

4. It may help with physical performance. Taurine is actually an ingredient found in many sports and energy drinks, but the jury’s still out on whether it actually makes a difference. “The more taurine in someone’s system, the better their muscles have been found to perform and recover,” Dr. Firshein says. Shapiro agrees. “It may also help remove waste products that cause muscle fatigue and protects against muscle cell damage,” she says. Dr. Gundry, however, says there isn’t a lot of research to support this. One human trial showed a small improvement in athletic performance for runners, but he says other trials failed to confirm the benefits.

5. It's good for your heart health. “There is a direct correlation between low taurine levels and high blood pressure,” Dr. Firshein says. “It increases endorphin production in the brain, which can lower stress and blood pressure." A 2016 clinical trial also found that taurine supplementation decreased blood pressure in prehypertensive individuals. In Japan, high doses of taurine are an approved treatment for heart failure.

Curious about the supplements an expert does recommend? Here's what our favorite dietitian says:

So should you supplement with taurine?

You can get your taurine fill from animal proteins like meat, fish, and dairy. But if you're a plant-based eater or are just interested in taurine's brain- or workout-boosting potential, talk to your doctor, dietitian, or other trusted practitioner to make sure that it won't interfere with any health conditions you have or medication that you may be taking.

Also: If you're drinking an energy drink that has taurine in it, be mindful of the caffeine content—too much caffeine can cause jitters, affect your sleep cycle, and in rare cases, cause heart issues and other serious health consequences.

If you and your doctor ultimately decide that supplementing with taurine is something right for you, “research has shown that three grams per day of supplementation is safe,” Dr. Gundry says. Good to know.

Curious about other popular supplements? Here's what you should know about vitamin K and vitamin B12.

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