A sulphur-containing amino acid, taurine has a number of biochemical roles in human metabolism. The amino acid was first named for the Latin Taurus, which means bull or ox, because it was first described in ox bile by a German scientist in 1827.1 Taurine is one of the major ingredients in most of the common energy drinks, and concerns over the safety of these drinks and questions as to the ingredients’ role in human cellular function have sparked renewed interest in this compound.
Like several other amino acids, taurine is often not found in its functional state in foods. However, it is a derivative of cysteine, which is another, more widely occurring amino acid. Taurine has multiple roles in the body, including membrane stabilization, calcium signaling, and regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle function; it is also a potent antioxidant.2 As a result of these functions, taurine is thought to influence blood pressure, cardiac muscle function, liver function, and exercise tolerance.
Because of its role in energy drinks, interest in taurine has grown. Consumption of energy drinks, which are marketed under a wide variety of brands and names, has increased dramatically in the last few years. One source quotes a 240% increase in sales from 2004 to 2009 with the brand Red Bull, claiming that more than 4 billion units were sold worldwide in 2011.3
Of the popular energy drinks available today, the major ingredients are sugar, caffeine, and taurine. Taurine concentrations in these drinks are usually between 1,000 mg and 2,000 mg per serving, with some brands containing as much as 3,000 mg to 4,000 mg per serving. Consumers’ claims of increased alertness and endurance were initially attributed to the caffeine content of the energy drinks. However, studies are finding that the effects of the ingredients in these drinks, especially caffeine and taurine, are more synergistic, bringing into play the effect of taurine.4
This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor