Taurine: From Bull Urine to Disease Treatment

bullThere is a common misconception that the popular energy drink RedBull contains urine or sperm from bulls, because it contains taurine. The myth stems from the fact that taurine was originally isolated from Ox bile (bulls and oxen are male cows) in the 1800’s. While initially identified in the bile (produced by the liver) of male cows, taurine is widely found in almost every organ in mammals. Taurine is chemically synthesized and used as an ingredient in infant formula, energy drinks, nutritional supplements, and pet food. Most recently it has been identified for its therapeutic value in the treatment of congestive heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases. It is currently being studied for its further use in the treatment of  other diseases, in particular those relating to  the nervous system, muscles, and mitochondrial disorders.

What is Taurine?

Image result for chemical structure of taurine
chemical structure of taurine (C2H7NO3S)

Taurine is a naturally-occurring sulfur containing amino acid, known specifically as β-aminoethanesulfonic acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of peptides and proteins, similar to the way sugars are the simple structures of carbohydrates.

Taurine was initially considered to be a non-essential, biologically inert, end product of sulfur metabolism and was believed to have no functional role in the body.

In humans who can only produce small quantities, taurine is a semi-essential amino acid, but is essential in cats which can suffer from taurine deficiency.

Since taurine deficiency had been identified in several species of animals, it was realized that taurine must be physiologically important.  It has since been determined that taurine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, nutritional value, and helps to regulate cellular metabolism (energy use) and function.

Essential Amino Acid

  • cats
  • some dogs
  • foxes
  • some monkeys
  • anteaters

Chemical Synthesis

Obtaining taurine from biological sources (i.e animals) is not practical as it does not give a good enough yield to supply commercial demand. Therefore, taurine is synthetically derived from chemical reactions involving precursor compounds.

Taurine has been synthesized from the reaction of 2-aminoethylsulfuric acid (from the reaction of monoethanolamine and sulfuric acid) with sodium sulfite. It has also be synthesized in a one step process involving aziridine and sulfurous acid, and from a multi-step reaction of ethylene oxide, sodium bisulfite, and isothonic acid.

Where is Taurine Made in the Body?

Taurine is biosynthesized in the liver of most animals through a process involving the amino acid cysteine. The liver is responsible for the detoxification of drugs and other chemicals that enter the body. Taurine assists in this detoxification as well as protects liver cells from the toxins they are clearing. Taurine also plays a role in bile salt formation and fat digestion.

Taurine made in the liver is also redistributed to other organs, tissues, and cells. The highest concentrations of taurine are found in the brain, retina (eye), and heart.

Deficiency in Animals

  • retina deficiency
  • cardiac dysfunction
  • immune deficiency
  • muscle atrophy
  • premature aging
  • impaired reproduction

Dietary Sources of Taurine

The majority of taurine present in humans is obtained from the diet. Taurine is obtained from seafood, meat, dairy and eggs. Thereby, vegan diets do not provide an adequate source of taurine. It is important to note that humans do not generally suffer from taurine-deficiency and the liver can substitute glycine for taurine when the later’s stores are low. However when present, taurine-deficiency is a result of malnutrition, presents with anxiety, epilepsy, hyperactivity and depression, and is associated with congestive heart failure. Vegans may benefit from obtaining the semi-essential amino acid through supplements.

Taurine as a Therapeutic Drug

Taurine has been approved in Japan for the treatment of congestive heart failure.  Taurine lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and may be able to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.

In diabetes, intracellular accumulation of sorbitol, resulting from high extracellular blood glucose, leads to the depletion of r taurine levels within the cell. In these cases cellular taurine-deficiency is associated with the development of diabetic cardiomyopathy. Treatment with taurine may be able to ameliorate the severity of diabetic complications and research is on-going.

The free amino acid has been found to modulate neurotransmitters,  reduce oxidative stress, and regulate renal blood flow and filtration. Research is currently being conducted  for its therapeutic use in the treatment of neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease), metabolic diseases, and renal disorders.

Safety

There are no known harmful side effects of taurine. In risk assessment studies, up to 3 mg per day did not produce any adverse effects in humans. Additionally, ttoxicity studies did not find taurine to be genotoxic, carcinogenic or teratogenic (embryo or fetus).

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References

Bayarmaa, B., Otgonsuren, D., & Odonmajig, P. (2014). Synthesis and characterization of Taurine. Mongolian Journal of Chemistry, 14, 57-60.

Bondareva, O.M., Lopatik, D.V., Kuvaeva, Z.I. et al. Pharm Chem J (2008) 42: 142. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11094-008-0072-3

Gupta, R. C., Win, T., & Bittner, S. (2005). Taurine analogues; A new class of therapeutics: Retrospect and prospects. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 12(17), 2021-39.

Houston, M. C. (2010). Nutrition and nutraceutical supplements in the treatment of hypertension. Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy, 8(6), 821-33. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1586/erc.10.63

Schaffer, S. W., Ito, T., & Azuma, J. (2014). Clinical significance of taurine. Amino Acids, 46(1), 1-5.

Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. Published 2017 Sep 13. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9

Xu YJ, Arneja AS, Tappia PS, Dhalla NS. The potential health benefits of taurine in cardiovascular disease. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2008;13(2):57–65.

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