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We’ve all heard the urban legend about taurine: an extract from bull testicles. Other versions say it’s bull semen.
It’s the true quasi-mythical source of RedBull’s “wings.”
It’s almost like the magical beliefs that exist in some folk medicine, like drinking powdered rhinoceros horn can cure impotence, or tiger penis will enhance your virility.
And, just like these folk magic beliefs, the mythical testicular origins of taurine is also false.
More interestingly, taurine doesn’t even give you wings… the truth is it actually helps you relax.
So, let’s explore the fascinating biology of this grossly misunderstood compound so we can learn how to best use it to improve our health, instead of jacking our adrenals up to 11 with energy drinks.
Taurine is an amino acid originally isolated from the bile of ox and bull stomachs way back in 1827. Since they found it in a bull, they named it taurine – from the latin root taurus, which means bull.
But it’s not limited to bovine stomachs. It’s actually found in many of our food sources, including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, breast milk, and it’s even in infant formulas.
That’s right, we make it ourselves, in our own human bodies.
This raises an interesting question: if taurine is found in breast milk and put into infant formulas, it must be important…. So, what does it do?
In the stomach, where it was originally found, taurine binds to lipids and fats to help their absorption into the intestines and liver.
But it’s more interesting actions are found in the brain.
Taurine, it turns out acts on two important inhibitory neurotransmitter systems: GABA and glycine .
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain. It slows things down, shuts things off. The reason you (usually) don’t act out your dreams with your body is because GABA shuts down the motor neurons that make you move.
GABA can do the same thing for racing, obsessive thought patterns that just don’t seem to stop. Anxiety also involves neuronal fear circuits that continue firing. These racing thoughts and shadowy, persistent anxieties disrupt sleep patterns.
It is the job of GABA neurons to calm these neurons down, so your natural rhythms can take over. Interestingly, meditation and yoga also both increase GABA neurotransmitter levels. So, if we think about how yoga and meditation make us feel – relaxed, centered, at peace, present – that gives some insight into what GABA activation feelslike.
Taurine itself binds to two different GABA receptors [2,3], stimulating GABA signaling, and easing you out of the mental chatter and brain activity that keeps you anxious, stressed, and disrupts your sleep cycle.
It’s analogous to a biochemical dose of meditation.
The other major inhibitory neurotransmitter taurine acts on is glycine. This is another major inhibitory neurotransmitter. Glycine is interesting because it especially acts to turn off glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter.
Glutamate hyperactivity is strongly associated with anxiety .
By increasing glycine signaling, taurine indirectly turns down the volume on glutamate. Ultimately this results in an overall anti-anxiety effect .
So far, we’ve looked at the inhibitory, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects of taurine. All these effects seem to run against the whole point of an energy drink.
So why is a multi-billion-dollar industry adding taurine to their products?
First of all, let’s get clear on something: energy drinks are NOT HEALTHY. They are full of sugar and chemical additives and more caffeine than anyone needs. But looking at the biology will be helpful to understand the role taurine plays.
Have you ever had one too many cups of coffee and wound up so jittery and scattered you didn’t actually accomplish anything?
Caffeine can hyperstimulate your glutamate neurons .
As we learned, taurine helps tone down glutamate signaling and create calm in your nervous system.
Taurine helps to reign in that hyperactivity, so you can (hopefully) focus a little better while your adrenals go into overdrive. It’s sort of like putting on the brakes so you don’t go too far over the speed limit.
The added taurine helps mitigate the destabilizing, scattering influence of so many stimulants flooding your system.
In short, taurine acts on the two most important inhibitory neurotransmitters in your brain to turn down the volume on your thoughts and anxieties.
It slows everything down to help you drop out of go-go-go mode and relax.
At the same time, let’s be honest: if you have sleep issues taurine alone is unlikely to make a huge difference in your life. The greatest benefits from subtle actors like this come from a synergistic approach, using multiple compounds that each influence similar processes to create a more powerful net effect on your neurology and the ability to drop into deep, restful sleep.
If your cells are taking in less sugar because they’re resisting insulin knocking at their door to let in sugar, then the cells have less energy to work with.
That sugar is there, and insulin is happily converting it to fat, but your cells aren’t getting it so of course they’re hungry and will keep telling you to eat more until they finally get some.
I’ve been asked many times about the one vitamin or supplement a person needs for good health, about this or that diet, about going Vegan or going Carnivore, and much more.
So I wanted to take a moment to look at some things here. Not the pros and cons of different diets or the importance of one vitamin over another, but instead — how you can determine what is right for you.
Especially as they get older, women can find it easier and easier to gain weight and harder and harder to lose it.
But more and more this is happening with younger women as well — and there is an exact reason for this.
It has to do with hormones, the messenger chemicals in our body that tell our cells how to use the foods we eat, whether to store fat or lose it, increase or decrease energy. They even affect our moods.
And when they get out of control, it can become harder and harder to climb back out of the hole.
So let’s take a look at exactly what’s happening here. First, we’ll define a couple of things.