The research – published in the European Journal of Nutrition – investigated the effect of taurine, a naturally-occurring nutrient found in the dark meat of poultry, fish and shellfish, on the risk of heart disease. It revealed that higher intake of taurine – also well known for its use as a synthetic additive in certain energy drinks – are associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in women with high levels of cholesterol, but not in women with low cholesterol levels.
"Our findings were very interesting. Taurine, at least in its natural form, does seem to have a significant protective effect in women with high cholesterol," said Professor Yu Chen of New York University (NYU), USA – who was principal investigator of the research.
Chen added that if future studies are able to replicate her team’s findings, taurine supplementation or dietary recommendations could one day be considered for women with high cholesterol.
"It is an interesting possibility," she said. "If these findings are confirmed, one day we might be able to suggest that someone with high cholesterol eat more poultry, specifically dark meat."
However the NYU professor did not that the research only looked at taurine that originated from natural sources.
"The nutrient being added to energy drinks or supplements is man-made and is added in unstudied amounts. These products also often contain not only very high amounts of taurine, but a multitude of other ingredients as well – such as caffeine and ginseng – that may influence CHD risk," said Chen.
Chen and her colleagues conducted their study using data and samples from the NYU Women's Health Study. The original study enrolled more than 14,000 women aged between 34 and 65. Upon enrolment, a wide range of medical, personal and lifestyle information was recorded - the data from this study continues to be used for a variety of new research projects studies.
In the new taurine study, the researchers used taurine levels in serum samples collected in 1985 – before disease occurrence – for 223 Women’s Health Study participants who later developed or died from CHD during the study follow up period (between 1986 and 2006).
Chen and her team compared these samples to taurine levels in collected at the same time for 223 participants who had no history of cardiovascular disease.
Whilst the comparison found no overall protective effect for serum taurine ion relation to CHD, further analysis did reveal that women with high cholesterol and high serum taurine were 60% less likely to develop or die from CHD than those with low taurine levels.
Chen noted that there is very little information available about taurine. While some animal studies indicate taurine may be beneficial to cardiovascular disease, “this is the first published prospective study to look at serum taurine and CHD in humans”, she explained.
She also explained that it is unclear whether synthetic taurine as an additive in food and drink products will have the same benefit observed in this study, and health effects of these products should be investigated separately.
Source: European Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0300-6
“Serum taurine and risk of coronary heart disease: a prospective, nested case–control study”
Authors: O.P. Wójcik, K.L. Koenig, A. Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, C. Pearte, M. Costa, Y. Chen