Taurine: What Is It?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 09, 2024
5 min read

Taurine is an amino acid that helps with bodily functions, including those of the digestive, cardiovascular, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. It’s considered a semi-essential (or conditionally essential) amino acid. Your body makes taurine naturally, but other sources of taurine include foods with protein, such as meat and fish, and taurine supplements.

Most people get their daily taurine requirements through their diet, but taurine supplements have been used to treat some medical conditions. Taurine is also a main ingredient in many energy drinks, along with caffeine and sugar.

Adults' bodies make their own taurine from a nonessential amino acid called cysteine. High-protein foods have enough cysteine for the human body, so most people don’t need supplements.

Babies, on the other hand, can’t make their own taurine. They get it from breast milk or formula that has taurine supplements.

Babies need taurine because their bodies can’t make their own taurine as well as adults do. Instead, babies get taurine from breastmilk or taurine-supplemented formula.

Typically, adults’ bodies make enough taurine, but you can also get taurine from your diet. Both sources of taurine are important to maintain the levels your body needs, and one can compensate for the other if there’s a deficiency.

Taurine is found in high-protein foods, including:

  • Meat, especially dark-meat poultry
  • Seafood, particularly shellfish
  • Dairy products
  • Seaweed

In a typical American diet, you get about 123-178 milligrams of taurine per day.

The amount of taurine in different protein-rich foods varies widely. For example, here’s how much taurine some specific foods contain (measured in milligrams per 100 grams):

  • Turkey, dark meat, roasted: 299.6 milligrams
  • Turkey, light meat, roasted: 11.1 milligrams
  • Beef, broiled: 38.4 milligrams
  • Scallops, raw: 827.7 milligrams
  • Whitefish, cooked: 172.1 milligrams
  • Pasteurized milk: 6 milligrams

People take taurine supplements for several reasons, including to support heart and central nervous system functions and to improve athletic performance. Taurine supplements come in capsule and powder forms.

Typical doses of taurine are between 1 and 6 grams per day. But not many large clinical trials have studied taurine, so more research is needed to determine how effective taurine supplements are.

If you’re vegan, you probably don’t get much taurine from your diet. If your taurine levels are low, your doctor may suggest a taurine supplement.

Always check with your doctor before taking supplements.

Energy drinks often contain high levels of taurine. Some contain about 750 milligrams per 8-ounce serving.

Along with taurine, energy drinks typically contain caffeine and sugar. It’s possible that taurine and caffeine work together to improve mental performance and energy. The taurine present in energy drinks may enhance the effects of caffeine.

For some people, energy drinks cause dehydration, nervousness, and trouble falling asleep. The primary reason for the controversy around energy drinks is about the caffeine and sugar content, not taurine. Caffeine and sugar can lead to problems with your heart rate and blood pressure, which can be made worse by taurine. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can also lead to problems.

Although more research is needed on the effects of taurine, your doctor may prescribe taurine supplements if your diet lacks it, or to help prevent or treat conditions such as:

Congestive heart failure. Limited clinical studies have shown that taurine may help improve hypertension and protect against heart failure.

Nervous system health. Taurine supplements can support your central nervous system. They may be used to treat anxiety, seizures, and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). 

Immune health. Taurine is an antioxidant, and it plays an important role in immune cell functions. Taurine supplements, especially in surgical cases, may ease inflammation.

Type 1 diabetes. Taurine supplements might support blood vessel function in people with type 1 diabetes.

Anemia. Taurine supplements help your body use iron better, making them effective for iron deficiency and anemia.

Cystic fibrosis. Taurine is also a part of bile acids. Supplements can promote proper fat digestion and can be used as an assistive therapy in cystic fibrosis with fat malabsorption.

Taurine and exercise

Due to taurine’s support for heart health and blood flow, it has been used as an exercise supplement. Clinical trials have shown mixed results on taurine’s effectiveness.

But some studies have shown that people taking taurine supplements for congestive heart failure also had better exercise capacity. Also, when used before high-intensity exercise, taurine may prevent damage to your muscles and improve physical performance.

Taurine and weight loss

Taurine is often marketed as a weight-loss supplement. In small studies, it reduced weight in participants who were overweight or obese.

Taurine and aging

Taurine levels decrease as you age. Research on animals has shown that taurine supplements improved life span, but whether that effect occurs in humans remains to be seen.

How much taurine is safe?

With a balanced diet and enough protein, you should be getting all the taurine and amino acids you need. If you have a lack of taurine, as with an IV infusion (or parenteral nutrition), you might take supplements. Check with your doctor about the proper dosage.

Side effects

An excess of taurine can lead to:

  • Negative nitrogen balance
  • Growth problems in children
  • Kidney strain

Taurine interactions

If you are on antihypertensive medications, taurine may strengthen their effects. This can be dangerous when trying to maintain blood pressure.

Large amounts of taurine mixed with alcohol or caffeine may have dangerous effects.

Your body uses taurine for several different functions. Your body makes its own taurine, but you can also get it through protein-rich foods.

Taurine is an antioxidant that your body uses in different ways, but more research is needed on how effective taurine supplements are in addressing specific medical conditions and concerns.

What does taurine do to the body?

Taurine helps the body with several different functions, including cardiovascular and nervous system functions as well as digestion.

What kind of taurine is present in energy drinks?

Taurine is an amino acid. The taurine in energy drinks isn’t exactly the same as the taurine that your body produces — it’s a synthetic version.

Who should avoid taurine?

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid taurine supplements.

Also, taurine interacts with some medications, such as antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, statins, and blood thinners. So if you take any of these, talk to your doctor before taking any taurine supplements.

What are the side effects of taurine?

Side effects are rare, but they may include vomiting, upset stomach, dizziness, and tiredness.