Taurine - An Overview
What Is Taurine?
Taurine (2-aminoethane-sulfonic acid) is an essential amino acid that is found naturally in almost every cell in your body.
You can also take it as a nootropic supplement for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Increased energy
- Lowered anxiety
- Overall cellular health
Most people are familiar with taurine as an ingredient in energy drinks such as Red Bull.
Taurine has a synergistic effect with caffeine, increasing energy while also taking the edge off of caffeine’s stimulation.
However, you do not have to drink these (often unhealthy) beverages to get the benefit of this nootropic.
Many people take taurine by itself as a supplement to avoid the excess sugar and caffeine that you usually find with these drinks.
Taurine works by activating GABA and glycine receptors in the brain. This can improve memory and mood, lower anxiety, and increase energy.23Jang-Yen Wu, Howard Prentice. Role of taurine in the central nervous system, J Biomed Sci. 2010
It is also an antioxidant that can reduce excess calcium levels in the brain. This protects cells, and can help prevent diseases like strokes and Alzheimers.
Taurine promotes the growth of new neurons, making it an excellent anti-aging supplement.24Stephen Schaffer, Ha Won Kim. Effects and Mechanisms of Taurine as a Therapeutic Agent, Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2018 25Gebara E. Taurine increases hippocampal neurogenesis in aging mice, Stem Cell Res. 2015
What Is Taurine Made From?
Originally taurine was extracted from bull semen and ox bile (taurus means “bull” in Latin, hence the name.)
You may be relieved to find out that this is no longer the case. Taurine is now synthesized in labs, and is perfectly suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and anyone who does not want to ingest bull semen (most people).
What Does Taurine Do?
Some people implicate taurine in raising anxiety levels, but this is misleading. Taurine is actually an anxiolytic, meaning it can lower anxiety.
This gets confused because of taurine’s use in energy drinks, which also contain a lot of sugar and caffeine. Caffeine and sugar can both trigger anxiety, especially in the doses found in some brands of energy drinks.
So, sometimes people conflate taurine with the increased anxiety when in actuality it is taking some of the edge off.
Fortunately, taurine is available in pure form for anyone wanting to experience its anxiolytic effects without all the unhealthy additives found in most commercial energy drinks.
Does Taurine Help For Anxiety?
Researchers believe that taurine lowers anxiety by modulating the brain’s GABA system.
The GABA system is your main inhibitory neurotransmitter, acting as the “brakes” of your mind.
Animal studies show that taurine can regulate the GABA system in a way that decreases feelings of anxiety and nervousness.1Jang-Yen Wu, Howard Prentice. Role of taurine in the central nervous system, J Biomed Sci. 2010
In fact, current research indicates that taurine may actually bind to GABA receptors itself, as well as stimulate and release GABA itself.2Dr. Minerva Yue, et al. Taurine Is a Potent Activator of Extrasynaptic GABAA Receptors in the Thalamus, Journal of Neuroscience. 2008
At the same time, taurine can inhibit glutamate, which is the brain’s primary excitatory neurotransmitter.
Glutamate is critical for a huge number of mental processes, but in excess, it can actually neurotoxic.
Anxiety can increase levels of glutamate, and long periods of stress can damage or destroy neurons.
Luckily, taurine can help keep glutamate levels within the healthy range. It can also clear out the excess calcium ions associated with high glutamate levels which are known to kill cells.3Gregor Zündorf and Georg Reiser. Calcium Dysregulation and Homeostasis of Neural Calcium in the Molecular Mechanisms of Neurodegenerative Diseases Provide Multiple Targets for Neuroprotection, Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011 4Louzada PR, et al. Taurine prevents the neurotoxicity of beta-amyloid and glutamate receptor agonists: activation of GABA receptors and possible implications for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders, FASEB J. 2004
So, by increasing GABA and limiting glutamate simultaneously, taurine can keep anxiety levels low and help you avoid the neurological damage associated with stress.
If you are looking for calm and focus, taurine may be an excellent choice, especially when stacked with caffeine.
Taurine For Depression
Taurine has clinically proven antidepressant and mood-boosting effects.
Although most of the current data is based on animal studies, the results are encouraging and we suspect that they translate to humans as well.
Clinical results show that taurine can raise levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (AKA the “feel-good” chemicals).
Current models indicate that depression can often be treated by properly regulating these neurotransmitters.5Gao-Feng Wu, et al. Antidepressant effect of taurine in chronic unpredictable mild stress-induced depressive rats, Sci Rep. 2017 6Ericson M, et al. Taurine elevates dopamine levels in the rat nucleus accumbens; antagonism by strychnine, Eur J Neurosci. 2006
Research also indicates that taurine can change “depression-related signaling cascades in the hippocampus”.
In other words, it can modulate the brain signals associated with low mood.7Toyoda A, Iio W. Antidepressant-like effect of chronic taurine administration and its hippocampal signal transduction in rats, Adv Exp Med Biol. 2013
It may also help with bipolar disorder. One large double-blind study found that taurine had a positive effect on symptoms of bipolar disorder in patients aged 18-25 versus placebo.
They suspected that this may be due to taurine’s role in neurogenesis and neuro-development.8O’Donnell CP. Adjunctive Taurine in First-Episode Psychosis: A Phase 2, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study, J Clin Psychiatry. 2016
Taurine For Studying
If you go to any college library during finals, it’s certain that you will see a good number of students sipping on energy drinks.
And even though they may be doing it mostly for the caffeine buzz, there is reason to believe that the taurine could help them process and retain what they’re studying.
According to research, taurine may exert some nootropic effects on learning and memory.
This may be for a few different reasons.
There is clinical evidence that taurine can help regulate the acetylcholine (ACh) system, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for encoding new memories and information recall.
It can also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neuron growth, which is also critical for learning.
In one study, researchers induced rats with memory impairment. The rats managed to complete a maze much faster after taking taurine.
Researchers concluded that by modulating the acetylcholine system, taurine partially reversed the effects of memory impairment.
This also indicates taurine’s ability as a neuroprotectant.9Lu CL, et al. Taurine improves the spatial learning and memory ability impaired by sub-chronic manganese exposure, J Biomed Sci. 2014
Another study found similar results in mice who were suffering from Alzheimer’s.10Hye Yun Kim, et al. Taurine in drinking water recovers learning and memory in the adult APP/PS1 mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, Sci Rep. 2014
A third study found that young mice that supplemented taurine regularly after weaning showed significantly better learning abilities.
Interestingly, the mice that took taurine BEFORE weaning performed worse, indicating that taurine may not be suitable before a certain age.11Suge R, et al. Specific timing of taurine supplementation affects learning ability in mice, Life Sci. 2007
So, although human studies are scarce, there is some preliminary evidence (as well as plenty of anecdotal reports) that taurine can improve cognition in this way.
Taurine is a potent anti-aging nootropic that can protect the brain and prevent cognitive decline. It does this through multiple pathways.
First, taurine in an anti-inflammatory. One of the main causes of cognitive degeneration is oxidative damage, and high levels of stress can exacerbate this.
Taurine can prevent and reverse this type of damage, lowering inflammation and clearing out free radicals, which can keep the brain young.12Marcinkiewicz J, Kontny E. Taurine and inflammatory diseases, Amino Acids. 2014 13S. Lakshmi Sree, S. Sethupathy. Evaluation of the efficacy of taurine as an antioxidant in the management of patients with chronic periodontitis, Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2014
But the benefits don’t stop there. Taurine also contributes to brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF is a protein that plays a significant role in neurogenesis i.e. the building of new neurons and neural connections. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain-derived_neurotrophic_factor
This is critical learning and encoding new information, especially as you get older.
As you age, your brain becomes less plastic, and it can be more difficult to forge new connections. This can cause a number of cognitive problems, from simple forgetfulness to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
There is growing evidence that taurine can increase BDNF and keep your neurons healthy and growing as you get on in years.14Caletti G, et al. Antidepressant dose of taurine increases mRNA expression of GABAA receptor α2 subunit and BDNF in the hippocampus of diabetic rats, Behav Brain Res. 2015 15Menzie J, et al. Taurine and central nervous system disorders, Amino Acids. 2014
There is evidence that diets rich in taurine could be responsible for longevity. Areas of the world where people eat food rich in taurine (such as seafood) tend to live longer.
According to research, it may play a significant role in the elderly population of Japan, a nation famous for long lives.16Yamori Y, et al. Taurine as the nutritional factor for the longevity of the Japanese revealed by a world-wide epidemiological survey, Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009
Although the mechanism is not well understood, taurine can treat and even cure tinnitus in some cases.17Thomas J. Brozoski, et al. The Effect of Supplemental Dietary Taurine on Tinnitus and Auditory Discrimination in an Animal Model, Hear Res. 2010
Does Taurine Give You Energy?
Taurine is a popular ingredient in many energy drinks, and although the caffeine they contain does most of the heavy lifting, there is some evidence that taurine can also boost physical performance.
One small trial saw that runners who took taurine performed better than runners who did not.18Thomas G Balshaw, et al. The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners, Amino Acids. 2013
How Taurine Works In The Brain
Taurine works by activating GABA and glycine receptors in the brain. This can improve memory and mood, lower anxiety, and increase energy.19Jang-Yen Wu, Howard Prentice. Role of taurine in the central nervous system, J Biomed Sci. 2010
It is also an antioxidant that can reduce excess calcium levels in the brain. This protects cells and can help prevent diseases like strokes and Alzheimers.
Taurine promotes the growth of new neurons, making it an excellent anti-aging supplement.20Stephen Schaffer, Ha Won Kim. Effects and Mechanisms of Taurine as a Therapeutic Agent, Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2018 21Gebara E, Udry F, Sultan S, Toni N. Taurine increases hippocampal neurogenesis in aging mice, Stem Cell Res. 2015
Taurine vs L-taurine
Although sometime people sell taurine as l-taurine, there is no difference. In fact, there is no such thing as l-taurine.
Chemists use “L-” and “D-” prefixes indicate whether it is a left- or right-oriented isomer of a particular compound.
Left oriented isomers are naturally occurring, and right oriented isomers are synthetic. In some cases can make a difference in their functionality.
However, this is only the case with compounds that polarize light. Taurine does not polarize light, so it does not come in two different isomers. Thus, “l-taurine” does not actually exist, there is only taurine.
Taurine Potential Side Effects
There do not seem any notable side effects to taurine. Most of the perceived negatives actually come from other ingredients in the energy drinks that taurine can be found in.
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Taurine and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Taurine? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.