Taurine is not technically an essential nutrient, but many argue it should be labeled as such (see Harry Serpanos). It’s not unusual for people, specifically as they age, to not endogenously produce enough. As an osmolyte, taurine is one of the master regulator’s of the body. The health problems caused by deficiency of it are numerous because the purposes it serves are numerous.
One of the main areas taurine is involved in is digestion. It ensures proper pH levels for protein digestion, proper bile availability for fat digestion, and such. Another main areas is in homeostatically maintaining mineral levels, from iron to the electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium); as related to it also regulating fluids.
The last function helps explain part of what has gone wrong on the Standard American Diet (SAD). When carbohydrate intake is high, insulin is constantly being spiked. This causes fluid retention and hence excess electrolytes. This is why it’s generally recommended to lower sodium intake, as it increases blood pressure.
However, this is only a problem on a high-carb diet. Go to the opposite extreme of a keto diet, there is the opposite extreme of a problem. Without constant insulin response, the body excretes unnecessary water from the cells. That would be fine by itself, but it ends up also excreting the electrolytes in the process.
Keto dieters don’t have to worry about high blood pressure, even if they were heavily salting their food. The body will simply keep on eliminating it. The issue with that is something else entirely. Low electrolyte levels can cause havoc in the body: cramps, tiredness, hormonal imbalances, blood clotting impairment, etc.
Of course, this is simple to solve. Many people in regular ketosis just supplement electrolytes and then they feel perfectly fine. But why do they need to supplement? Hunter-gatherers don’t supplement. The thing is the official keto diet, as originally used for medical purposes, restricts protein for concern of gluconeogenesis (i.e., conversion to glucose; the reason one doesn’t need to eat carbs).
It is true that a large bolus of protein — as a large meal of meat, fish eggs, soy, seitan, etc — will boost insulin and knock one out of ketosis. It only does this briefly, as opposed to what happens on a high-carb diet, but those seeking ketosis for health reasons want to maintain it constantly. There are medical conditions, such as epileptic seizures, where this is necessary.
For most people, though, they don’t need to be in constant ketosis. Restricting protein inevitably means restricting taurine in the diet. That potentially can make it harder for the body even to make use of the protein that is consumed, which can cause one to not get enough anabolic growth, repair, and healing; such as not being able to build muscle.
Such a problem isn’t limited to keto dieters, of course. The average American only gets around 12% of their calories from protein, as opposed to something like 40% of calories from seed oils, the latter being bane of the alternative diet world. We’ve been told by health experts to reduce meat intake and most Americans have complied. So, down goes taurine levels in the general public.
There are still other complications for why taurine can be hard to get, despite theoretically being so plentiful in certain animal foods. First off, the highest sources of taurine is seafood, not something most Americans eat all the time. Even American beef consumption dropped quite a bit over the past century, if recently there has been a slight uptick.
Though ruminant meat is the second great source of taurine, there are two factors that can reduce the content in the meat that ends up on plates and between buns. Taurine is found in the liquid. Beef is often hung in a storage locker for months, sometimes a year and a half. This is the tender aged beef that we prefer, as we evolved to be scavengers.
As such, most of the meat we buy has already lost it’s supply of taurine before we even get it home. Then we are likely to overcook it and hence even more of the taurine-filled juices drip away. Few people catch the juices and consume them. That is easy to do with a slow-cooker, and you will notice the tremendous amount of liquid that sometimes comes out.
If one is to grill a steak, make sure to sear it at high temperatures on both sides. That will seal in the juices. Hamburgers are more problematic. The beef could’ve been ground much earlier and there is nothing to hold in the taurine. One solution is, if you have a butcher nearby, have them freshly grind up beef when you need it.
This knowledge is typically moot on a traditional diet, in particular among hunter-gatherers, since taurine is found in animal foods. They possibly are getting plenty of fish or at least plenty of fresh meat, often from ruminants. Dairy and eggs also have a fair amount of taurine, if not as high.
A related topic is the sodium issue for different populations. On a taurine-rich and/or low-carb diet, over-salting one’s food is a non-issue. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that, when looking at hunter-gatherers like the Hadza, it appears they don’t use salt (Ancestry Foundation, L. Amber O’hearn – Blood, sweat, and tears: how much salt do we really need? (AHS22)). The thing is there actually are plenty of minerals, including sodium, in animal foods.
If taurine is sufficient, as would be the case for the Hadza and others, the body will hold onto what minerals it gets. With homoeostatic regulation, there will be no problem of excess sodium nor deficient electrolytes. Just eat fish and fresh meat. Then you probably will be fine in this area of health.
There are additional explanations for why this is the case. There are two things the body needs extra salt for. One is to balance out potassium. And the other is to eliminate toxins. Both potassium and toxins are more often found in plant foods. Hunter-gatherers solve this problem by prioritizing animal foods, when possible.
Hunter-gatherers can seem amazing in how they have managed to solve health problems like this with no scientific knowledge. That is because they didn’t actually solve the problem. They simply prevented it in the first place by eating as hominids have done for millions of years.
Yet to the modern perspective, it sometimes can seem amazing. It’s not only that hunter-gatherers seemingly don’t bother much with salt. The nutritionist Mary Ruddick, in talks with Harry Serpanos, discussed her time spent with the Hadza. She observed they drank very little water.
On persistence hunts lasting hours in the heat of the midday, they’d carry no water and would not stop for water. They wouldn’t even take a break to get some honey from the hives they kept passing. All they wanted was the meat. Serpanos noted, in another video, that Inuit will drink the taurine-filled fluids from a fresh kill.
Those fluids, of course, contain water. And the taurine would help with maintaining low levels of thirst in keeping everything in balance. But also the blood would be low in deuterium, as the animals already eliminated it. The more deuterium one gets the more one needs water to eliminate the deuterium (see Harry Serpanos). That means less thirst and less need for water.
Serpanos suggested that this is why the Hadza will expend such effort in digging up, cooking, and chewing on tough, fibrous wild tubers that lack much in the way of nutrition, not even carbs. What they might be seeking is the deuterium-depleted water that is made available. This might be the same reason they’ll suck on certain kinds of leaves.
For all these reasons, hunter-gatherers could accomplish physical feats that seem impossible to an outside observer. Consider the Apache, on foot, who could outpace the United States cavalry while carrying no water or food, sometimes while crossing deserts and dry grasslands. Part of this is from being in ketosis that burns body fat for energy. Ketones are a superfuel.
The other thing is that the body will produce metabolic water from burning fat as well. And guess what? Metabolic water is deuterium-depleted. So, on a diet that is very low-carb or includes plenty of fasting, humans will be fat-adapted in allowing easy access to energy and water as needed, just as long as the body has a fat reserve.
Also, as long as the diet is animal-based, the necessary minerals such as electrolytes will be maintained. Unlike a modern athlete guzzling carbs non-stop, the hunter-gatherer can easily go on for hours with no intake of food or water, much less carbs. It’s simply not necessary. Humans were evolved for persistence hunting and for going long periods in between meals (Human Adaptability and Health).
The moral of the story: Eat a species-appropriate diet. Or else make sure to carefully supplement and hope for the best.