To Your Health

Magnesium taurate has considerable potential as a nutritional supplement, since both magnesium and taurine supplements improve a number of health conditions

Q. I recently bought a magnesium supplement in the form "magnesium taurate." Does this mean it includes taurine, and if so, is it any better than other magnesium supplements? A. Magnesium taurate is a molecular complex containing both magnesium and taurine. Once inside the body, it will combine with water and separate into magnesium ions and taurine. Magnesium taurate may be a "match made in heaven" because taurine is used by the body to transport magnesium ions into and out of cells through the cell membranes. Balancing with the free calcium outside cells, magnesium works almost exclusively inside cells. By reducing the level of free calcium in our body, magnesium exerts tremendous influence on blood pressure and heart function, acting as a natural "calcium channel blocker." Magnesium taurate has considerable potential as a nutritional supplement, since both magnesium and taurine supplements improve a number of health conditions.

The importance of magnesium to health is well recognized (see "To Your Health," June 13, 2003). In adults the role of taurine appears to be determined by cell type, functioning differently in nerve cells, heart cells, liver cells, immune cells, pancreatic cells, kidney cells, or skin cells. The taurine content of the various tissues declines with age, though this decline can be halted with taurine supplements. Along with several other substances, taurine also has antioxidant properties.

Congestive heart failure depletes the heart muscle of a number of important nutrients, including taurine. A supplement combining several nutrients, taurine, magnesium, coenzyme Q-10, and carnitine, improves heart function and increases survival. The heart concentrates taurine and maintains taurine levels so that taurine alone makes up more than 50% of the heart's free amino acid pool.

As important as taurine is to adults, it is even more critical to the health of infants. Taurine was discovered in 1827, but its importance in infant nutrition was not appreciated for nearly 150 years. It was 1975 before it was found that babies fed a formula with added taurine maintained their urinary taurine levels as well as breast-fed infants. Taurine is especially important for infants because it plays an essential role in both eye and brain development, and although adults are able to make taurine, infants lack that ability. It is now considered an essential nutrient for premature babies and is beneficial through the first three months of life.

Taurine is unique among the amino acids in many ways. It is derived from two "normal" amino acids, methionine and cysteine, but it is not made into protein, as these and most other amino acids are. Rather it serves to regulate the function of many body systems, maintaining fluid balance and blood sugar level among its many tasks. It is chemically different in that it contains a "sulfonic acid" group in place of the "carboxylic acid" group found in most amino acids. Also, most amino acids are "alpha amino acids" while taurine is a "beta amino acid." Even though taurine is a maverick, toxicity is not a concern. No signs of toxicity have been indicated in animal studies, and as much as six grams daily is commonly used in clinical trials for treatment of the conditions that are helped by taurine supplements, although large taurine supplements can cause nausea if not taken with food.

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