If you want to keep your memory going strong as you get older, you need to know that taurine is central to the health of the brain’s neurons. Although not technically one of the “amino acids” you often hear about, it’s a closely related protein the body can’t live without.
Taurine derives its name from the Latin word for bull or ox – owing to the fact that this substance was originally isolated from ox bile.
So it’s not too much of a surprise that most of the taurine we consume is found in meat, dairy and fish. It’s also added to energy drinks. But those drinks are too ridiculously overloaded with caffeine and sugar to make them a healthy source.
Although no one yet has been able to figure out how to witness new neurons in the very act of being created in the hippocampus – the crucial memory area of the brain – lab tests on animals do show that taurine stimulates this process by activating stem cells.
Once activated, these stem cells become what are called “intermediate neural progenitors,” cells that develop into new neurons. According to researchers, taurine helps these cells survive long enough to become mature neurons.
The result is vital brain protection. And it doesn’t stop there. . .
Besides helping to generate new brain cells, taurine also limits inflammation in the brain, thereby helping the neural networks transmit their signals more effectively.1
Taurine’s ability to protect neurons and other nerves from damage has researchers looking into how it might be used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other conditions that involve the destruction of nerve tissue.
As a case of Parkinson’s disease progresses, neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine are destroyed by inflammation caused by overactive, inflammatory microglia – immune cells that roam the brain. But researchers in Asia have produced evidence that taurine can prevent this harmful inflammation.2
And taurine may also prove instrumental in helping repair the neuronal damage involved in psychosis. A review study at the University of Manchester in England explains that taking taurine supplements (four grams daily) reduces psychotic symptoms in the span of three months.3
These scientists believe that n-acetyl cysteine (more familiar to most of us as NAC) and vitamin C may also help relieve brain problems like psychosis when extreme oxidative stress occurs in the brain.
Taurine Boosts Your Brain’s Batteries
Meanwhile, other tests of taurine show you can use it for improving the function of mitochondria. The malfunction of mitochondria, the organelles in cells that supply them with energy, is now thought to be at the root of many brain problems and other illnesses. Studies in Japan have revealed that taurine is crucial for keeping mitochondria undamaged, a benefit that could improve the health of neurons.
The synapses between neurons, where these cells pass electro-chemical signals to each other, are jam-packed with mitochondria. When these mitochondria fall down on the job, memory and other brain functions are compromised. According to the Japanese scientists, when mitochondria run short of taurine, their inner membranes may collapse, taking them out of service.4
And if you’re plagued with gum disease, you might consider taking taurine supplements. A small study on ten men in their thirties who were suffering chronic periodontitis showed that taking 500 mg a day of taurine for 15 days helped improve the body’s defenses against gum damage.5
But most of us probably don’t need supplements if we eat foods rich in taurine – mostly meats. It might be a different story if you’re a vegetarian.
Another interesting fact – one of the important brain nutrients in seaweed is taurine.6 Some scientists believe that consuming seaweed – which contains other brain nutrients as well — may have been crucial to our distant ancestors’ developing bigger, better brains and passing them along to us.