Newsletter #208 - Does Supplementing Taurine Lower Blood Pressure?
Hey friends, hope everyone is doing well and enjoying a healthy spring so far. This week, I’d like to visit the topic of blood pressure - a very important subject that I’ve often visited in the past on the blog and elsewhere.
You often hear high blood pressure characterized as “the silent killer,” because lots of people have hypertension without being aware of it, and the condition can lead to permanent damage throughout the body without any obvious symptoms. And it is all too common. According to the CDC, nearly half of American adults have hypertension, and risk tends to go up as we get older.
But high blood pressure is probably not inevitable, even if it kind of seems that way. For instance, we know that people living in certain hunter-gatherer communities have low blood pressure, and it stays low even as they age. So it’s totally reasonable to think that aspects of our lifestyle - in other words, things that we can control - play a role in circulatory function.
One factor that has attracted some hype is taurine. Taurine is an amino acid-like molecule that occurs naturally throughout the body, and most people probably recognize it as an ingredient in Red Bull and Monster. Some preliminary research in rodents has shown that taurine might improve heart health by preventing hardening of the arteries, and generally keeping the blood vessels healthy. But does this translate to humans? And should we supplement with taurine?
This Week's Research Highlights
💊 Higher taurine in the diet is linked to lower risk of death due to ischemic heart disease.
Researchers approached groups of people from 61 different populations distributed across 16 countries, and invited them to participate in a health examination. During these exams, they looked at standard measurements like weight, blood pressure, and blood lipids, but they also looked at a bunch of biomarkers that corresponded to dietary factors, like urinary sodium and potassium.
They followed the subjects for more than a decade, to see how differences in these measures ultimately related to long-term outcomes. The researchers noticed that higher levels of taurine in the urine (indicating higher intake in the diet) were strongly and consistently linked to lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, even after adjusting for other factors like age and BMI. And it seemed to be making a big difference; statistical analysis showed that 42-55% of the variation in ischemic heart disease mortality could be explained by differences in taurine levels.
⚕️ Supplementing taurine substantially reduces blood pressure in the context of a low taurine diet.
If you take a close look at the bottom right corner of the graph above, you’ll notice that the populations with the highest taurine levels were in Japan and around the Mediterranean region. That is because taurine is found abundantly in fish, and these people happened to also be the most avid seafood consumers out of all the studied groups. So, you might question whether it was actually the taurine itself, or is taurine just acting as a marker of a high fish diet?
The research team for that study apparently wondered the same thing, so they decided to do a clinical trial. The research team recruited a group of Tibetans living at the foot of Mt Everest who had participated in the study. These folks had some of the lowest levels of taurine among the populations studied (maybe because they didn’t eat fish for religious reasons), and their blood pressure was also very high. The volunteers were administered 3 grams of supplemental taurine every day. After two months, their blood pressure had dropped dramatically, from an average of 152.5/93.8 all the way down to 138.7/84.6.
🫀 Taurine lowers blood pressure by elevating factors that regulate vascular tone.
More recently, researchers in China recruited 120 men and women with prehypertension, meaning a systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 mm Hg, and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 to 89 mm Hg. They randomly assigned the volunteers to either a placebo group or a taurine group, the latter of whom took 1.6 grams of taurine daily. After 12 weeks, the placebo group showed no meaningful changes, but the taurine group experienced, on average, a 7.2 point decrease in systolic BP and a 4.7 point decrease in diastolic BP. And the subjects with the highest blood pressure showed even bigger improvements, as you might expect, showing a 10 point drop in systolic blood pressure. But these researchers also wanted to figure out how taurine was influencing blood pressure, so they decided to dig a little deeper. When they examined bloodwork for these participants, they noticed that plasma levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) had nearly doubled in the taurine group. Here’s why that matters: Hydrogen sulfide is a chemical compound produced in the lining of blood vessels that helps arteries widen in response to increased blood flow, and in turn leads to lower blood pressure (several types of antihypertensive drugs work in this way). And sure enough, when the researchers took a closer look at the blood vessels of the volunteers via ultrasound, vascular dilation had increased substantially, by nearly 5%.
Random Trivia & Weird News
🐣 Cowbirds engage in “mafia behavior” to compel other birds to raise their babies for them.
Mother's Day is rapidly approaching, which made me think about the diversity of maternal behavior in the animal kingdom. Many species of birds are renowned for their investment in their offspring, but there are some notable exceptions, and cowbirds might take the grand prize for worst avian moms.
You may already know that some birds, such as cuckoos, rely on a reproductive strategy called brood parasitism, which is where they basically trick other species of birds into raising their babies by surreptitiously lying their eggs in another bird’s nest. Cowbirds embrace the same deadbeat mom tactic, but they take it a step further.
If a bird figures out the ruse and rejects the cowbird’s eggs, the cowbirds will violently retaliate, ransacking the nest of the targeted nest. They will also “farm” the nests of other birds by destroying the contents, forcing the host to start over, so that the cowbird can sneak in and add its own egg to the new nest. Not exactly good citizens.
Podcasts We Loved This Week
- Karl & Spencer Nadolsky: Can you be healthy with obesity? Via the Docs Who Lift Podcast.
- Jennifer DuBois: New plastic-eating enzymes are taking on our plastic problem. Via Science Friday.
Products We Are Enjoying
NOW Foods Taurine (1000 mg)
A typical American diet provides around 120-180 mg of taurine daily, and humans can synthesize small amounts of taurine so most of us don’t really need to worry about frank deficiency. However, improvements in blood pressure from taurine are usually seen with much higher doses than what you would find in a normal diet, which is why supplementation may be needed to see a significant payoff. Clinical studies use 1500-3000 mg per day, and that amount is generally deemed to be a safe long-term dose. Fortunately, taurine is also a very cheap supplement, and easy to find. I typically take three of these at night before bed.
humanOS Catalog Feature of the Week
Thanks for reading, and we'll see y'all next week!