The multi-billion dollar phenomenon of energy drinks has captured the attention of scientists and nutritionists across the country. One of the main reasons is taurine, a common ingredient found in the caffeine and sugar-laden concoctions.
Taurine is a free form amino acid contained in foods and manufactured in the body from the amino acid cysteine. It was first discovered in the bile of bulls, and now produced synthetically by the truckload. Since taurine is created naturally in the human body, a good diet supplies all you need.
Studies have implicated synthetic taurine in illnesses ranging from high blood pressure to strokes and seizures to heart disease. For these reasons it’s been banned in some Scandinavian countries after being linked to the deaths of three consumers.
Because taurine is utilized by the body during exercise and in times of stress, it’s become a popular ingredient in energy drinks. But taurine has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system that’s very unnatural.
Is Taurine an Upper or Downer? Surprising New Research on the Brain
Scientists have known for a couple of years that taurine is involved somehow in the development and function of the brain. But recently they’ve discovered a more defined area of taurine’s neurological activity. In a recent article from MedicalNewsToday.com, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York say they were “surprised” to find taurine “extraordinarily active” on brain receptors .
Even though taurine is known to be a key amino acid, the researchers say they’re curious and puzzled still about the function of taurine in the brain, and have more questions than answers.
They found taurine working deep inside the brain, in the “regulatory” area of the thalamus, interacting with neurotransmitters. The thalamus is involved in sleep/wake cycle pathways in the brain and other activities.
“Its inclusion in these supplements is a little puzzling, because our research would suggest that instead of being a pick-me-up, the taurine actually would have more of a sedative effect on the brain,” the scientists said .
“Remarkably little is known about the effects of energy drinks on the brain. We can’t even be sure how much of the taurine in the drink actually reaches the brain! Assuming that some of it does get absorbed, the taurine-which, if anything, seems to have a sedating effect on the brain-may actually play a role in the ‘crash’ people often report after drinking these highly caffeinated beverages. People have speculated that the post-Red Bull low was simply a caffeine-rebound effect, but it might also be due to the taurine content.”
That’s a huge concern because it’s become trendy with young people to mix the drinks with alcohol. The daily dose of Taurine should be between 100-500mg, and one can of a popular energy drink, for example, has 1000 milligrams of synthetically produced Taurine. Some people are drinking up to eight cans a day (8000mg of Taurine), an amount that can have drug-like effects on the body and cause damage. Furthermore, mixing stimulants with sedatives, especially alcohol, is extremely risky.
Taurine: The Magic Bullet for Energy?
There’s no magic bullet for strength and endurance. I would recommend that you avoid energy drinks. Treat them like soft drinks, or even worse. The lofty claims on these drinks for instant vitality are simply outrageous. A good, varied diet of whole organic live foods gives you all the Taurine you need, without the highs and lows of energy drinks.
Natural Taurine is actually beneficial for the body and can be found in cows milk, meat, fish and eggs and for vegetarians it can be found seaweed. The daily dose of Taurine should be no higher than 500mg.
Make sure you exercise and get enough sleep, and remember, medicine and illness can zap your energy. Stay properly hydrated with lots of purified water, especially when you’re exercising hard or you’re stressed. It’s a good idea to drink lots of water regardless.
Take a pass on the “crash and burn” high from caffeine and sugar – and taurine. The ingredients of these drinks, both mysterious and some not too mysterious, are a recipe for disaster. They may “give you wings,” but you’ll soon come tumbling down – and in the long run, crash really hard.
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM
- n.p. Scientists Close In On Taurine’s Activity In The Brain. Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 2008 January 18.
- Patrick Di Justo. What’s Inside: Red Bull. Wired Magazine. 2007 June 26.