Nutrition Notes

Can Taurine Support Neurological Health?

Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is particularly abundant in the brain, cardiac, and skeletal muscles. It can be obtained from dietary sources, such as beef, poultry, and seafood. Taurine can also be made in the body from cysteine, another amino acid. However, stress and certain pathologies may limit the body’s ability to synthesize taurine. In addition, taurine and its precursor cysteine are present in low concentrations within many plant-derived proteins, which may lead to lower levels of taurine intake in vegetarian diets.

Taurine has many physiological actions in the human body, including the support of mitochondrial function, cellular calcium levels, and membrane stability. It has also been shown to support the body’s response to oxidative stress. Taurine may also play a role in neurological health through its ability to modulate the activity of certain neurotransmission pathways.

The supportive role of taurine in the brain is widespread and varied. Taurine has been shown to modulate glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) transmission. It has been shown to displace GABA from binding to the GABA–benzodiazepine receptor complex. Taurine has also been shown to compete with glycine at certain receptor sites. Taurine may also modulate certain neurological electrical activity through its influence on chloride ions. Taurine has also been shown to reduce the excitability of certain neurons, and it may support neurological development and nerve and muscle conduction networks.

Taurine may also influence intracellular calcium levels. An animal study indicated that supplementation with taurine caused a significant upregulation of the sodium-potassium pump, which, in turn, helped a rapid establishment of an ionic gradient across plasma membranes in hippocampal cells. The study results also suggested that the activity of taurine would support the prevention of excessive calcium accumulation in neurons in the hippocampus.

Other actions of taurine in the human body include its ability to modulate bile acid conjugation, potentially support the intestinal absorption of certain lipid molecules, and facilitate cholesterol elimination. Taurine also has been shown to influence pancreatic function. Studies have indicated that supplementation with taurine has been associated with improved insulin sensitivity and insulin production by pancreatic beta cells.

Taurine may also support skeletal muscle health and exercise recovery. In a meta-analysis evaluation of the influence of supplementation with taurine, it was shown to improve overall endurance performance. Taurine may also support muscle health through its potential ability to modulate muscle protein catabolism and the body’s response to oxidative stress.

The amino acid, taurine, supports human health in many ways. It may support healthy glucose and lipid metabolism, the body’s response to oxidative stress, and skeletal muscle health. Taurine may also support nerve function and brain health.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT