Taurine, an organic acid found in many energy drinks, is believed to be safe given the current scientific data available. In fact, this compound is sometimes used in medical treatment under the supervision of a physician for diseases as varied as congestive heart failure and epilepsy. While taurine itself is probably not dangerous, the drinks it is blended with can be.
This compound is found naturally in the body in several different locations, and it can be synthesized by the brain. In the body, taurine helps to regulate the levels of salts and water in the blood in addition to being involved in the function of neurotransmitters and in heart function. The compound tends to act as a diuretic in the body, a trait which can become important when it is combined with other drugs, and it can have an excitatory effect.
In studies, people taking up to three grams a day of taurine over the course of a year experienced no ill effects. Researchers also noted that any excess of this substance was simply expressed by the kidneys, making it difficult for this organic acid to bioaccumulate or cause medical problems.
However, in people with liver or kidney disease, it can be difficult to express taurine from the body, which can lead to medical problems. The safety of taurine additives for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers has also not been evaluated, and in keeping with a better safe than sorry attitude. Some evidence has also suggested that it could be dangerous for people with bipolar disorder.
The biggest issue with taurine is not the supplement itself, but the drinks it is packaged in. Energy drinks often act as diuretics, which can make them dangerous to consume before or after exercise, because they can lead to dehydration. Some ill effects have also been observed in people who combine energy drinks and alcohol, because the mix of a stimulant and a depressant can be very dangerous and sometimes even deadly.
As with many other foods, energy drinks are probably most safely consumed in moderation. Before and after exercise, people should stick to drinking water or drinks which will replace electrolytes, preventing dehydration. The consumption of any energy drink blended with alcohol should be avoided, and people may want to consider limiting their daily intake of such drinks to address concerns about overdosing on caffeine or consuming high amounts of refined sugar.
Popular legend suggests that this organic acid is extracted from the semen of bulls. These legends play of the word origins of taurine, as the word comes from the Latin for “bull,” referencing the fact that this organic acid was first discovered in cow bile. Supplements today are made synthetically in labs, and no bull parts or secretions are involved.