The health benefits of TUDCA
In an age when it seems like everyone is going on detox there is one all-star organ at the center of it all – the liver. The largest internal organ, the liver’s primary function is to filter blood from the digestive tract and rid the body of toxins and harmful compounds.
Since many of us love to kick back with a cold beer or give in to a fructose-latent sweet tooth, it’s clear that maintaining a healthy liver is key to our biological well-being. A poorly functioning liver cause symptoms including hindered muscle gain, stagnated fat loss, bad mood, and an increase in free radicals.
Tauroursodeoxycholic acid, or TUDCA, has been gaining notable attention in recent years and maybe it’s time you join the bandwagon. It is best known for liver support and health but also touts several other benefits.
What Is TUDCA?
TUDCA is a water soluble bile salt derived from the ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) and taurine found in trace amounts in the human body. When bile salts secreted by liver arrive in the intestines, bacteria convert them to UDCA. Taurine is a naturally-occurring, free-form amino acid already a popular clinical treatment for its mood enhancement and hepatoprotective capabilities (ie. it fights toxicity to prevent cells from breaking down). When these two substances are chemically combined, TUDCA is formed.
TUDCA has already been extracted from bears for use in traditional Chinese medicine for over 3,000 years due to its higher concentration in the animal’s bile. In the United States, UDCA is an existing FDA-supported treatment for certain liver diseases.
Benefits of TUDCA for liver health
The liver is typically a powerhouse of its own with little dependence on other organs to function. However, since it’s responsible for so many vital activities, problems arise when the liver undergoes too much stress. Common stressors include the high use of acetaminophen, alcohol, and steroids. Pregnancy can also hinder liver function.
TUDCA plays three main roles when comes to liver support and health:
- Protects liver cells form free radicals and other harmful compounds
- Regulates liver enzymes
- Fights hepatitis infections
Liver Cell Protection
TUDCA can be used to treat a liver disease called cholestasis which occurs when bile becomes backed up is unable to travel to the small intestines via the gallbladder. This condition can destroy the liver by causing cell death from the inside out. TUDCA’s effect at treating this condition by increasing bile flow was reported by a 2008 study from the University of Rome Tor Vergata.
Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) are two crucial enzymes present in the liver. Health professionals commonly measure theses enzyme because they can become elevated in the face of liver damage. The ratio between the two can also help differentiate between the various causes. High levels of ALT and AST can be indicative of hepatitis or primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), an autoimmune disease that damages bile ducts.
TUDCA consumption has been shown to be highly effective at decrease enzyme levels. A study from the University of Milan saw a 51 percent drop in the level of liver enzymes in women with PBC from two months of TUDCA supplementation. An earlier study also found TUDCA to still be effective in low doses with 23 PBC patients showing significant enzyme level improvements with only 500 mg daily.
TUDCA blocks the hepatitis B and hepatitis D viruses from invading liver cells. In fact, of all bile salts, TUDCA is the most effective preventing hepatitis B infection. A 1998 study found TDUCA to be more effective at decreasing aminotransferase serum levels than placebo with progressive improvement of hepatitis.
Other possible benefits of TUDCA supplements
As previously mentioned, the benefits of TUDCA extend beyond the liver. it can also improve insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol, shrink gallstones, and improve brain health.
Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress Response
The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the highway network of cells, extending from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. It also aids in protein folding which is why it is largely responsible for many of the additional benefits to be discussed when met with TUDCA/UDCA. Cellular stress can trigger Unfolding Protein Response (UPR), a self-defensive reaction in which the ER misfolds or unfolds proteins to reverse the stressor or initiate cell death in the case of failure. By reducing the occurrence of UPR in cells, TUDCA is able to reduce damage in organs suffering from acute oxygen deprivation.
There is a strong correlation between high insulin levels and obesity, which explains why TUDCA is commonly advertised as a fat burn supplement. Insulin is necessary for blood glucose obtained from food to enter cells but sometimes, often genetically, cells become immune to its signals. When this happens cells fail to absorb sufficient glucose from the blood, leading to a state of high blood sugar called hyperglycemia. This condition is responsible for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases and strongly associated with abdominal obesity.
TUDCA combats this condition by increasing the glucose-induced release of insulin via the cAMP/PKA pathway. This allows for the enhanced insulin sensitivity in the liver, muscle, and adipose tissue as well as normalization of glucose levels (homeostasis), as supported by studies on both cell cultures and diabetic mice.
TUDCA is a cholesterol fighter given its ability to break down fats and protects nerves in the liver from death by infection. A study from the Institute of Internal Medicine in Italy found a significant decrease in cholesterol in its high dosage group given 1,500 mg of TUDCA daily over a six month period.
Gallstones develop when digestive fluids harden in the gallbladder after leaving the liver, often as a result of high cholesterol. As a solid mass, they can be painful to pass and may even require surgical removal if they become severe.
Given the effectiveness of TUDCA at promoting cholesterol transport, it can help dissolve gallstones lithologically to a passable size. However, while cholesterol gallstones make up 75 percent of hepatic gallstones, they’re also the only ones sensitive to bile acids. In contrast, calcified gallstones, which appear opaque, are immune due calcium deposits TUDCA is unable to break down.
It is important to note only about 10 percent or less of persons with gallstones respond to TUDCA/UDCA treatment, making it unlikely to be a first-line method of treatment. Although, when administered, TUDCA should be paired with a low cholesterol diet to further promote natural expungement.
More research is needed but TUDCA is believed to have the ability to prevent brain cell death from toxins and degenerative diseases. This is largely thanks to it being water soluble, a property of Taurine, which allows it to transport sugars, fats, and proteins across brain blood barriers.
TUDCA decreases amyloid beta (Aβ) plaques which play a critical role in neuron cell death (apoptosis).
TUDCA prevents the activation of the enzyme c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) which leads to the death of neurons.
Counteracts brain cell death caused by 3-nitropropionic acid, a known trigger of the disease.
Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
ALSFRS-R is a rating scale which measures the degree of functional impairment in ALS patients. A 2016 study found that ALS patients who consumed a daily dose of TUDCA for one year reported higher scores.
TUDCA increases bile acid levels in the brain, decreases blood clot volume, and mitigates cell death.
Is TUDCA Safe to Take?
TUDCA is generally safe to consume since it is naturally produced by the body. It may also be more effective than UDCA at treating liver cirrhosis due to its superior water solubility. Several studies support these claims. One study found no negative effects in liver transplant patients after one year of daily TUDCA treatment. Another study found TUDCA to be well tolerated in otherwise healthy obese patients over a four week period.
As with any substance, it is never wise to overconsume. The results of a trial investigating the efficacy of UDCA consumption in patients suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a chronic liver disease that eventually progresses to liver failure and sometimes bile duct cancer, suggests that high doses may be toxic.
Due to limited clinical research, there is no standardized dosage for TUDCA supplementation, however, research suggests that anywhere between 500 and 2000 mg per day may be effective.
Ideal dosage may also differ for various use cases. To lower liver enzyme levels and bolster liver repair, as little as 10-23 mg per day has been shown to work. For improving bile salt composition, 15-20 mg per kg of bodyweight appears to be an effective dose. To increase muscle and liver sensitivity, a dose of 1750 mg is ideal and is the highest recommended dose for the fatty liver disease.
Side Effects of TUDCA
The vast majority of TUDCA users report zero side effects. At most, diarrhea has been reported in some cases of daily consumption of 1,000 to 1,500 mg. TUDCA should also be avoided before drinking. It reacts with alcohol which can cause liver damage. In this case, it is best used the day following alcohol consumption or as a treatment option for recovering alcoholics.
TUDCA supplements are widely available but you may find them be relatively pricey since it is expensive to synthesize. For this reason, companies tend to under-dose when including it in their formulas. Brands which produce TUDCA include Nutricost, Olympus Labs, Premium Powders, and Vitadirect.
TUDCA vs. UDCA
UDCA is already widely prescribed and FDA approved treatment for liver diseases. As you may recall, TUDCA is formed from the chemical binding of UDCA and taurine. Taurine is responsible for the key difference between these two substances – their water solubility. UDCA, lacking taurine, is largely insoluble and has poor absorption rates in the body. It is also vulnerable to extensive biotransformation.
Additionally, TUDCA is much easier to obtain than UDCA since it does not require a prescription. It is best used as a preventative measure when engaging in liver-taxing activities such as heavy drinking or steroid use.
TUDCA vs. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle offers similar primary benefits as TUDCA but, again, is poorly absorbed on its own. When effective, it is one of the few compounds that can repair liver existing liver damage instead of only preventing it. The active ingredient silymarin blocks toxins before they are absorbed by the liver as well as activates RNA and DNA protein synthesis which allows it to combat liver damage on a cellular level.
Powder vs. Pill
The end results of taking a pill, or in powder form TUDCA are essentially the same. Pills are typically sold in packaged 250 mg doses which are more convenient but may be required to be taken more frequently. They are also commonly wrapped in animal-based gelatin, making pills not an ideal option for vegans. On the other hand, powder offers more flexibility in dose size but is less convenient to consume and has been said to have an unpleasant taste.
Where to Buy TUDCA Supplements
Although there is still much to learn about TUDCA, it is already clear it offers some very powerful benefits to those concerned with liver health. Better yet is the unique properties of TUDCA show high promise for supporting weight loss, cardiovascular health, and brain function. As an easily accessible and non-toxic substance, TUDCA may be one of the best supplements you can add to your wellness stack.