taurine chemical structure

Public opinion is a very important and powerful tool. This applies to many different things, including science and molecules. Some molecules are controversial because of their connection with weapons or global warming. Other molecules cause concern because of possible health effects. The big problem is when rumour and poor information becomes associated with molecules. This gives the molecule a bad name that sticks. Public opinion quickly makes a decision and the molecule is now bad or problematic. Taurine is an example of one such molecule – supposedly it gives you an energy boost.

Does it really give you the energy of an ox or is this all a load of bullocks Let’s take a look!

A Tale of Two Groups

Taurine is the simpler and common name for the molecule 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid. This molecule contains a two carbon chain with a different group on either end. At one end is an amine group consisting of a single nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms. On the other side is a sulfonic group containing one sulfur atom and three oxygen atoms.

taurine chemical structure

Taurine usually has a positive charge on the amine group and a negative charge on the sulfonic group. However, because these charges are equal and opposite then the molecule is electrically neutral overall and is a zwitterion.

In it’s pure form, taurine is a white solid, with a melting point over 300 °C. The groups at either end of the molecule make it highly soluble.

Bull Bile

Taurine was first isolated in 1827 from the bile of an ox, hence the name taurine, which means bull or ox (like the constellation Taurus that is a bull, or the first gen Pokemon). However, it wasn’t just bulls that had taurine and in 1846 the molecule was also discovered in humans.

In fact, taurine exists in the bile and body and many animals. Even some plants contain a very small amount.

In terms of our diet, taurine is naturally present in meat and fish, although cooking foods high in taurine can reduce the amount we actually end up eating.

A Body Tour of Taurine

In our bodies, taurine has many different and important uses. It plays a role in our heart, muscles, eyes and the central nervous system. Indeed taurine is one of the most abundant amino acids in our bodies!

Why do we have a graphic of a heart just waiting for an excuse to pop back out? You must have forgotten our article about heartburn!

One of the main places to find taurine is in bile! This fluid helps us to digest certain foods, and bile salts made from taurine are particularly helpful to digest fats and oils

The are many diseases and conditions for which a lack of taurine might be the cause. As it is able to pass into the brain, taurine can also have a impact on the body our body looks after itself and possibly even help prevent epileptic fits.

It is precisely because taurine has so many possible roles and affects that there are concerns about its use in food, drink and other products.

Energy Boost

Taurine is an ingredient in many energy drinks and it is here where the controversary and confusion starts. The origin of this taurine and the health effects are the two major talking points. Let’s start with the first point. Where does taurine come from, what process makes it and which form do energy drinks use?

All Natural or All Lab?

There has been a long standing rumour that energy drinks use taurine taken from bull sperm! We have already said that taurine exists across the body, including sperm. However, like many molecules used in flavourings, medicine and cosmetics, the taurine added to energy drinks is artificial.

Taurine is naturally made in the body from the amino acid cysteine. In humans and other mammals there are two different pathways that produce taurine. The main process takes places in the pancreas and goes through several steps before converting cysteine to taurine.

Thousands of tonnes of taurine is made for use each year. The are two main routes of production. The first process involves taking a molecule very similar to taurine, but with an -OH group, instead of the -NH3 group. Reacting this molecule with ammonia, in a reaction known as ammonolysis, gives taurine.

Another method reacts aziridine with sulfurous acid. Aziridine is a three atom ring contain two carbon and one nitrogen atom, while sulfurous acid has the chemical formula H2SO3.

Energy Overload?

The second with taurine in energy drinks are the health effects. Some energy drinks can (no pun intended) contain 1000 – 2000 mg per serving, which in simple terms is 1 – 2 grams per serving. This high amount has led to concern about the effect this might have on the body, especially in those who regularly consume energy drinks.

Studies have shown there to be no negative effects for the consumption of 1 g of taurine per kilogram of body fat per day. Moreover, the amount of taurine taken as a supplement is safe up to 3 g per day. It should be noted though that studies have shown their to be no health benefits from this level of taurine either.

So, the amount of taurine present in energy drinks is pretty boring. It doesn’t seem to cause any problems, but it doesn’t really offer any positive health benefits either. Like many things in life, a bit of moderation is probably the best approach!

Other Uses

Unsurprisingly, there is research into the use of taurine, or molecules made from taurine, to treat a range of different diseases. Recently, taurine has also found use in cosmetics, where its ability to prevent permanent scar formation and prevent damage to hair follicles is appealing.

It’s not just humans though who use taurine as a treatment. Vets can give cats taurine to help reduce issues with their retinas and also to treatment heart-related diseases. There is even evidence to suggest it may be useful to treat similar heart-related diseases in certain breeds of dogs.

Of course, we have plenty of graphics involving animals from over the years… from cats with different coloured eyes, inhalers for animals, and hot dogs.


When it comes to science, chemistry and molecule we must be careful of misinformation, rumour and myths. There is nothing wrong with a bit of caution and wanting to find out more, but always be wary.

Taurine is found throughout the bodies of humans and animals. It plays several important roles, but there is still much research to do on it’s purpose and affects.

What is clear is that the information about taurine in energy drinks is not wholly accurate. The taurine in these drinks is artificially made and the health risks or benefits are still not certain. Taurine is an important molecule and one we definitely need in our lives. The best way to find out more is not to have the strength of an ox, but rather the curiosity of a cat!


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