A Bullish Amino Acid
The amino acid taurine was first found in the gall bladder of a bull. It is an active ingredient in the popular beverage, Red Bull, which boasts a diverse 'hit list' of biological activities. These include antioxidant, cell water and electrolyte (calcium and potassium) regulation, detoxification and cell membrane stabilisation.
In animal studies, taurine concentrations in the blood and several organs, including the brain, decrease with age because of increased oxidative stress. However, scientists are discovering this can be corrected with taurine supplementation.1
Taurine appears to help the heart and blood vessels. Blood pressure can be lowered with supplementation of 6g/day.2 Long-term use can improve the health and heart function of persons with congestive heart failure.3 The 2g taurine in one serving of Red Bull may also have positive effects on mental performance related to physical fatigue and heart performance both during and after exercise. However, researchers have not tested taurine in isolation.4,5
Abreast Of Iodine
Researchers have discovered dietary iodide travels to the lactating mammary gland. They gave iodide to animals with breast tumours and found the animals with growth-suppressed tumours displayed higher iodine content, suggesting that iodine uptake into breast cancerous tissues can suppress tumour growth.6
Studies on women with fibrocystic breast disease have revealed molecular iodide supplementation improves symptoms and fibrosis without influencing thyroid function.7 Japanese women, who have the lowest rates of breast cancer-related deaths, also consume iodine from seaweed and seafood in amounts 16 to 40 times greater than the US recommended maximum intake of 250mcg/day.8 Further studies show that in both animal and human forms of breast cancer, a specific iodide transporter is expressed in the absence of a pregnant or lactating state.9 However, finding significantly lower iodine content in breast cancer tissue compared to noncancerous tissue in the same breast, or the amounts found in fibrocystic breasts,10 suggests that iodine slows tumour growth. Increasing breast iodine content may therefore be beneficial to breast health.
Sticks To Your Stomach
If you visit the Mediterranean, you'll likely eat some food that contains a plant resin. The sticky material is called mastic gum, and it is derived from the stems and leaves of a particular variety of pistachio tree (Pistacia lentiscus). In animal studies, this gum has been shown to exert cell protection in the stomach, as well as reduce acid secretion.11
A few human studies on mastic gum have shown positive results in both peptic stomach and duodenal intestinal ulcers. Clinically effective doses are as low as 1g/day.12,13 British researchers recently studied mastic against the Helicobacter pylori bacteria that mediates ulcers and found potent and persistent inhibitory effects against the 'ulcer bug.'14
In another study, scientists performed a chemical analysis of mastic gum and pinpointed a specific triterpenoid fraction as being the active component in this plant extract.15 What remains to be seen is if commercially available mastic supplements display similar effects in the gut and whether mastic's antibacterial action spares 'friendly' bacteria such as Lactobacillus, which it has been known to kill in the test tube.16
1. Eppler B, Dawson, Jr R. Dietary taurine manipulations in aged male Fischer 344 rat tissue: taurine concentration, taurine biosynthesis, and oxidative markers. Biochem Pharmacol 2001;62:29-39.
2. Fujita T, et al. Effects of increased adrenomedullary activity and taurine in young patients with borderline hypertension. Circulation 1987;75:525-32.
3. Militante JD, Lombardini JB. Increased cardiac levels of taurine in cardiomyopathy: the paradoxical benefits of oral taurine treatment. Nutr Res 2001;21:93-102.
4. Barthel T, et al. Readiness potential in different states of physical activation and after ingestion of taurine and/or caffeine-containing drinks. Amino Acids 2001;20:63-73.
5. Baum M, Weiss M. The influence of a taurine-containing drink on cardiac parameters before and after exercise measured by echocardiography. Amino Acids 2001;20:75-82.
6. Funahashi H, et al. Suppressive effect of iodine on DMBA-induced breast tumour growth in the rat. J Surg Oncol 1996;61:209-13.
7. Ghent WR, et al. Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of breast. Can J Surg 1993;36:453-60.
8. Venturi S. Is there a role for iodine in breast diseases? The Breast 2001;10:379-82.
9. Tazebay UH, et al. The mammary gland iodide transporter is expressed during lactation and in breast cancer. Nature Med 2000;6:871-8.
10. Kilbane MT, et al. Tissue iodine content and serum-mediated 125I uptake-blocking activity in breast cancer. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2000;85:1245-50.
11. Al-Said MS, et al. Evaluation of mastic, a crude drug obtained from Pistacia lentiscus for gastric and duodenal anti-ulcer activity. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;15:271-8.
12. Huwez FU, Al-Habbal MJ. Mastic in treatment of benign gastric ulcers. Gastroenterol Jpn 1986;21:273-4.
13. Al-Habbal MJ, et al. A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer. J Clin Exp Pharm Physiol 1984;11:541-4.
14. Huwez FU, et al. Mastic gum kills Helicobacter pylori. N Engl J Med 1998;339:194-6.
15. Papageorgiou VP, et al. Gas chromatographic-mass spectroscopic analysis of the acidic triterpenic fraction of mastic gum. J Chromatogr 1997;769:263-73.
16. Tassou CC, Nychas GJE. Antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of mastic gum (Pistacia lentiscus var. chia) on Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria in broth and in model food system. Int Biodeterior Biodegrad 1995;36:411-20.
Anthony Almada, BSc, MSc, is a nutritional and exercise biochemist and has collaborated on more than 50 university-based clinical trials. He is the co-founder of EAS and founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition.