Taurine is a substance derived from cysteine that can be obtained naturally in foods, produced in the body via biosynthesis or produced industrially with a sequence of chemical reactions.
The synthesis of taurine is important, as the substance plays many functional roles within the body, which may be enhanced with supplementation. It is for this reason that the chemical synthesis of taurine has been developed as an industrial process, enabling higher intake of the amino acid for individuals.
Naturally Occurring Taurine and Biosynthesis
Taurine is an amino acid that is present in many foods and inclusion of these lead to a daily intake of approximately 58 mg, depending on the individual diet. In particular, fish and meat products have high taurine content and individuals on a vegetarian or vegan diet tend to have lower levels of intake.
Additionally, taurine is naturally found in certain parts of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract, muscular tissue and in the bile. This taurine is synthesized in the pancreas via the cysteine sulfonic acid pathway, known as biosynthesis of taurine. It involves the oxidation of the -thiol group of the cysteine, followed by a decarboxylation reaction and a final spontaneous reaction to form taurine. Taurine is also produced in the testicles of adult males.
Need for Synthesis and Production
As a result of the physiological function of taurine in the body, higher doses may be beneficial and up to 3000 mg per day has been declared to be safe for most individuals to consume on a daily basis.
Increased intake of taurine is believed to improve the maintenance and function of the skeletal muscles, which has been tested in animal studies. Additionally, it plays a role in the regulation of fatty deposits in the liver and the prevention of cirrhosis.
There are two main approached that are commonly used to obtain taurine via chemical reactions.
The first involves a reaction between ethylene oxide and sodium bisulfite to form isethionic acid, which is then used to obtain the synthetic form of taurine. The second uses the chemical reaction between aziridine and sulfurous acid to obtain taurine in a single reactive process.
The consumer demand for products containing taurine continues to increase, leading to a need for higher production levels.
Although taurine does occur naturally in food sources, on a commercial scale it is economically beneficial to synthesize the amino acid derivative with chemical reactions, rather than extract it from natural sources. For this reason, the vast majority of taurine used in supplements and other food products is chemically synthesized.