By: Deedra Mason, ND – Director of Clinical Education & Research
Essential, non-essential and the semi- essential’s make up a cooperative tribe of amino acids supporting our metabolism. They are the “can do” building blocks of hormones, enzyme/chemical driven pathways and tissue. At the end of the day, amino acids give the body its infrastructure for health and longevity.
Some amino acids are called on more frequently by our bodies, depending on age, gender, and demand. As such, many people looking for better well-being will ask if there are specific amino acids that are more important as we age. First and foremost we need to establish ALL amino acids matter. Synergy matters when discussing health, hormones and metabolic know-how.
One of my favorite sayings is “if you can’t make it, you need to take it”. Amino acids are best consumed through a varied diet because 9 of the 20 amino acids our bodies rely on cannot be synthesized. If you have a particular need, perhaps due to a dietary deficiency, supplementation is the best way to obtain these metabolic superheroes.
As we age, our demand on the amino acids increases and so should our commitment to ensuring we get them in some fashion. Pay close attention to phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, lysine, histidine, leucine, Isoleucine and valine, biochemistry considers these amongst the most important.
Still, you must be asking yourself, “Are there particular amino acids that may target a specific goal?” Perhaps you want a better night’s sleep or improved mental focus. Maybe instead you want to ensure healthy cardiovascular and nervous system function as you and your cells mature. If that is the case I would tell you to look at a master amino called Taurine.
Taurine is NOT an essential amino acid, however, I would make an argument for it being critical for health. Taurine is important because it is used extensively throughout the body for cellular function making it a high demand amino. Taurine includes close to 50% of the available amino acid “soup” in heart muscle.(1) Other vital tissues where taurine reserves must be plentiful is the brain and skeletal muscle. When it comes to overall longevity, taurine is a heavy lifter.
Do you know its food sources?
With a healthy diet, you can create taurine from two smaller building blocks, cysteine, and the essential methionine. Better yet, several foods can naturally give you sufficient amounts of taurine. Taurine is found in highest amounts in darker meats and fish. Shellfish actually hold the most amount per gram. This means that some individuals, like vegans and vegetarians may be missing rich sources depending on their dietary regimen. Taurine, L-Carnitine, and Creatine are amino acids vegetarians often miss out on daily. Nuts are the best source of taurine building blocks, albeit in mg amounts when taurine’s demand requires gram amounts. (2, 3) To meet daily needs, which are often upwards of 70 grams, individuals on specialized diets may need to be aware of supplement options to meet these demands.
Taurine is of particular importance, as we age, not just because our production may decline, as physical demands do, but because fluctuations in hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have been implicated in taurine deficiency. Aging itself makes supplementation or dedication to dietary intervention not just prudent as we age, but necessary for healthy aging.
Beyond sex hormones is cardiovascular, endocrine and neurologic function as we age, Taurine assists other components in a diet to support glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic energy. This is true for optimal blood sugar levels as we age as well as for supporting cardiovascular health and cardiac muscle upkeep. (4)
In addition, sources of taurine through both diet and supplementation can play a role in the performance of the brain and support mental perception and health. Taurine has an interactive exchange with calcium in the brain. With calcium, taurine is a trigger for the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Taurine is known to benefit individuals with attention and focus because taurine may inhibit excitatory neurotransmitters like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine, while enhancing release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).(5)
As we age, whether your concern is cardiovascular health or mental health, Taurine is a non-essential amino acid with an essential function in the body!
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Kendler BS. Taurine: an overview of its role in preventive medicine. Prev Med. 1989;18(1):79-100.
Ripps H, Shen W. Review: Taurine: A “very essential” amino acid. Mol Vis. 2012;18:2673-2686.
Birdsall TC. Therapeutic applications of taurine. Altern Med Rev. 1998;3(2):128-136.
El Idrissi A, Boukarrou L, Splavnyk K, et al. Functional implication of taurine in aging. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;643:199-206.