The Japanese have a life expectancy that is among the highest in the world. In fact, Okinawa, Japan's famous "Island of Longevity," probably has the highest percentage of people over 100 in the world. Undoubtedly, there are many factors that influence the lives of older populations, but the evidence shows that they all have one thing in common: high dietary intake of an amino acid called taurine.
The connection between taurine and long life is so strong that researchers have dubbed taurine "The nutritional factor for longevity of the Japanese."
Taurine promotes cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, electrolyte balance, hearing function, and immune modulation. In animal research, taurine protects against heart failure, reducing mortality by almost 80%.
Taurine is found in abundance in healthy bodies. However, certain diets, particularly vegetarian or vegan diets, lack adequate amounts of taurine.
Disease states, including liver, kidney, or heart failure, diabetes, and cancer, can cause taurine deficiency. And aging bodies are often unable to produce an optimal amount of taurine internally, making supplementation vital.
What is taurine
Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is a type of amino acid found in the body and is considered the most abundant amino acid in the heart, retina, skeletal muscle, brain, and immune cells.
The word "taurine" comes from the Latin word taurus, which means bull or ox, because it was first isolated from ox bile in 1827 by German scientists Friedrich Tiedemann and Leopold Gmelin.
However, contrary to popular belief, there is no association between taurine and bull sperm. In fact, it is found in a variety of natural sources, both in the body and throughout the food supply.
Like other amino acids like glutamine and proline, it is a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that the body can generally produce it on its own, except in times of illness and stress.
L-taurine is often added to energy drinks for those looking to take advantage of the potential benefits of taurine.
It is also widely available in supplement form and may be beneficial for people at risk for taurine deficiency, including those receiving parenteral nutrition or those with chronic heart, liver, or kidney failure.
Benefits of taurine
Those interested in longevity should consider this very low-cost and vital nutrient. The following are some of the most important benefits of increasing taurine levels.
1. It can help reduce the risk of heart disease
Studies show that taurine can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thanks to its ability to lower blood pressure and inflammation. In fact, animal models suggest that a higher intake might help protect against heart disease and prevent fatty plaque buildup in the arteries.
A study in Japan found that taking 3 grams a day for seven weeks led to significant reductions in body weight and triglyceride levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
It also decreased the atherogenic index, a measure used to predict the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
2. Could decrease symptoms of Parkinson's disease
Studies indicate that taurine may help with the regeneration of brain cells, which may be beneficial for treating neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease.
Interestingly, research shows that people with Parkinson's disease were more likely to have lower levels of taurine compared to a control group. Not only that, but lower levels were also associated with higher motor severity.
Some research suggests that it may help reduce the severity of symptoms by altering the activity of a specific enzyme involved in mitochondrial function.
3. Potentially reduces metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These conditions include high blood pressure, excess belly fat, increased cholesterol or triglyceride levels, and high blood sugar levels.
A 2016 review published in Food & Function, looked at a combination of human and animal studies, and reported that taurine was found to have “efficient action against metabolic syndrome, including lowering triglycerides to prevent obesity, improve insulin resistance to regulate glucose metabolism, lower cholesterol to prevent diet-induced hypercholesterolemia, and lower blood pressure”.
While more research is definitely needed, other research also indicates that it might be beneficial in preventing metabolic syndrome when combined with regular physical activity and a healthy, full diet.
4. Helps patients with periodontal disease
Taurine acts as an antioxidant, which means that it can help fight harmful free radicals and prevent oxidative stress in the body.
Some research also shows that it may be beneficial in treating periodontal disease, which is a type of gum infection often caused by poor brushing and flossing.
A study conducted at Annamalai University in India found that giving taurine to people with chronic periodontitis reduces oxidative stress on the gums and blood, which could help promote healing and improve oral health.
5. Can improve sports performance
Many athletes often take a taurine supplement to increase physical performance and improve endurance.
In one study, eight middle-distance runners consumed 1,000 milligrams two hours before running, which was found to increase performance by an average of 1.7 percent.
Another study conducted in Japan showed that taurine supplementation was linked to improvements in strength and endurance, thanks to its ability to act as an antioxidant and protect against exercise-induced DNA damage.
Animal models and human studies have also found that taurine can help prevent muscle injury and increase fat burning during exercise, which can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to increasing athletic performance.
Taurine is naturally found in a variety of meats and dairy products. For most people, this means that if you eat a balanced diet, you will probably get everything you need.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the typical omnivorous diet provides between 9 and 400 milligrams of taurine per day. The dietary intake on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is estimated to be about 17 milligrams per day, and many vegan diets are completely lacking in this important amino acid.
However, except in times of extreme illness and stress, the body can produce taurine on its own, and some research suggests that the body may excrete less to maintain levels when intake is also low.
Although it is often found in sports drinks and supplements, there are also many natural sources of this important amino acid available. Here are some of the main sources of taurine:
· Meat and poultry: 11 to 306 milligrams / 100 grams wet weight
· Seafood - 11 to 827 milligrams / 100 grams wet weight
· Dairy products: two to eight milligrams / 100 milliliters
· Breast milk and infant formula: four to seven milligrams / 100 milliliters
Supplements and dosage recommendations
Taurine supplements are available in capsule or powder form. The dosage of taurine can vary depending on several different factors, but most supplements contain between 500 and 1,000 milligrams per serving.
However, doses up to 3,000 milligrams have been shown to be safe and are associated with minimal risk of side effects.
Make sure to speak with your doctor before starting supplementation if you have any underlying health conditions. Also, consider starting with a lower dose and moving forward to assess your tolerance and prevent adverse health effects.
Many also recommend a taurine supplement for dogs or taurine for cats to help prevent complications and improve outcomes for pets diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
However, most pets can meet their needs for this important amino acid only through diet, so talk to your vet to determine if supplementation is appropriate for your furry friend.
Dangers and possible side effects of taurine
Although it has been considered generally safe to consume, it is important to practice moderation with all supplements to avoid potential side effects of taurine. Consult with your doctor before beginning supplementation, and when possible, simply get it through a balanced diet.
When consumed in energy drinks, the danger potential of taurine can be increased. Energy drinks have been linked to serious safety concerns, leading to a ban on this important amino acid in several countries.
However, it is not clear if these health problems could be caused by taurine itself or its combination with caffeine and other potentially harmful ingredients.
While some animal research suggests that taurine might be beneficial for mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, other studies have found that it might worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder and mania.
If you have any mental health conditions, talk to your doctor before starting supplementation.
Supplementation is also not recommended for people with kidney problems, as it could worsen kidney function and exacerbate symptoms. Pregnant or lactating women should also avoid its use, as no research has been conducted on the health and safety of supplements for these populations.
Finally, taurine can also act as a natural diuretic to increase the excretion of water from the body. Therefore, it can interfere with certain medications such as lithium, which can decrease their effectiveness.
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