A new player is hitting the functional medicine world because of its vast number of benefits for the whole body, and it’s tauroursodeoxycholic acid. Or TUDCA for short.
TUDCA is a water-soluble bile acid that you naturally produce in small amounts. Because bile plays an essential role in drainage throughout the body, TUDCA supports your digestion and detox. TUDCA also helps you break down fats and absorb them better.
But research and personal testimonies show that the benefits of TUDCA go far beyond digestion. This bile acid also benefits your liver, brain, gut, eyes, mitochondria, and more.
Interestingly, bear bile contains large amounts of TUDCA, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years. But getting TUDCA from bears is an extreme animal welfare concern.
Nowadays, TUDCA is produced synthetically, not harvested from bear bile. And U.S. scientists are continuously developing new methods for animal- and environmentally-friendly TUDCA production.
What is TUDCA used for? Keep reading to discover 18 ways TUDCA could boost your health.
1. Bile Flow Stimulation
Your body mainly detoxifies through your liver. It filters toxins and impurities out of your blood to prevent them from damaging your tissues. Then your liver breaks these toxins down with enzymes and dumps them into your bile so they can exit via your stools.
But the toxins can make the bile thick and sludgy over time. Just like a clogged sink in your bathroom, your bile duct can get congested. That may leave toxins to stagnate in your liver, preventing you from detoxing. But TUDCA could help change that.
Researchers studied animals with severe liver disease. The scientists found that after receiving TUDCA, their bile flow increased by 250%. Not only that, the composition of their bile changed as well. It was higher in other compounds that help digestion. (1)
2. Liver Support
No matter how amazing of a filter your liver is, it can still take damage from doing its job. The toxins that your liver encounters can cause fatty liver disease, creating scar tissue that can lead to liver cirrhosis. That could increase the production of liver enzymes, signaling your liver is inflamed or damaged.
TUDCA benefits the liver and might help fight liver cirrhosis. A group of people with liver cirrhosis and high liver enzymes took 750 milligrams (mg) of TUDCA for six months. During the treatment process, it was discovered that TUDCA will lower liver enzymes significantly when compared to before the people started taking it. Plus, supplementing with this bile acid was well tolerated and no patient complained of side effects. (2)
3. Kidney Protection
Your kidneys are another detox organ working to grab wastes and extra fluid out of your blood. Then they deposit the waste and fluid in your urine for removal. Like your liver, the tissues in your kidneys can also get damaged and inflamed as they do their job. And this can cause kidney cell death and disease.
TUDCA may help protect the kidneys and cells, however. Studies on animals suggest that TUDCA reduces kidney inflammation due to high sodium levels. It may also help protect kidney tissue from damage by preventing kidney cell death. (3)
4. Memory Support
Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder where clumps of sticky proteins called amyloid plaque build up in your brain. They prevent your brain from functioning properly by interfering with communication between brain cells. Eventually brain cell death occurs, which can cause memory loss.
Studies show that TUDCA may act as a potent protector of brain cells. In one study, researchers gave TUDCA to animals with brain plaque and memory loss. After six months, they found that the amount of brain plaque was significantly reduced. TUDCA not only helped remove the plaque, but also helped prevent its production. The researchers also observed that the animals’ memory notably improved. (4)
5. Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease also originates in the brain. The cells that produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine start to die. When they don't get enough dopamine, brain cells can’t communicate. That can lead to tremors, trouble walking, and general loss of muscle control.
TUDCA may help to restore normal movement. Studies on animals with Parkinson’s disease symptoms reveal it could be an effective treatment. Animals that received TUDCA had fewer tremors and walked better. For some of the animals, Parkinson’s disease symptoms disappeared completely. Plus, researchers observed that TUDCA helped prevent the loss of the cells that produce dopamine in the brain. (5)
6. Post-Stroke Brain Support
When a blood vessel in your brain becomes blocked, it results in a stroke. The blockage prevents oxygenated blood from getting to an area of the brain. The shortage of oxygen then creates damage to that part of the brain.
Once again, TUDCA may be a valuable compound in preventing cell damage.
In a lab study, animals with brain injury from a stroke took TUDCA one hour after it occurred. After seven days, their brains had a 50% decrease of harmed cells from the stroke. Those are noteworthy results considering the animals only received one dosage. (6)
Strokes can also damage the DNA of surrounding cells, breaking the DNA apart. The same test showed that the DNA damage in these animals’ brains reduced by 80% after the seven days.
7. Blood Sugar Control
Type 1 diabetes is a disorder where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. High blood sugar can lead to insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance, and diabetic complications, such as nerve and organ damage. It’s important to keep blood sugar levels in check to prevent these threats to optimal health.
Animal studies indicate that TUDCA may help lower blood sugar. Type 1 diabetic animals received TUDCA for 24 days. After only 15 days, tests showed that their fasting blood sugar levels had lowered by 43%. In this study, researchers hypothesize the animals had more insulin because their pancreas cells started to produce insulin again. (7)
8. Gut Inflammation
Inflammation in your digestive tract can lead to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main types of IBD. They can cause diarrhea, cramping, and bloating.
Studies done on human cells in an environment that mimicked gut inflammation shows that TUDCA helps to reduce the inflammation that contributes to these diseases. When researchers exposed cells to toxins that should trigger inflammation, TUDCA helped to reduce the amount of inflammatory molecules they produced. (8)
9. Gut Permeability
The lining of your intestines have cells that create gates called tight junctions. They decide whether to let things in or keep things out. When the tight junctions spread too far apart, they allow too much through. This is commonly known as leaky gut.
Different protein messengers in your gut regulate your tight junctions. These messengers signal the junctions to open or close like a gate. Using TUDCA may help raise these messengers to perform at their optimal levels.
Researchers gave TUDCA to animals with low levels of these chemical messengers over a four-week period. They found that TUDCA helped increase the numbers of these protein messengers and restore their intestinal integrity. (8)
10. Microbiome Enhancement
Your gut is home to a vast number of microbes, both “good” and “bad.” A poor diet can allow the bad guys to take over. An overabundance of some types of microbes is associated with obesity, inflammation, and other common diseases. Keeping those critters to a minimum benefits your gut and overall health.
TUDCA may help regulate which microbes dominate your microbiome. Researchers gave TUDCA to animals with an overabundance of “bad” microbes — linked to obesity and inflammation. Their microbiomes improved, weeding out the bad critters related to inflammation and obesity. Not only that, but the microbes associated with lower levels of inflammation increased. (8)
11. Mitochondrial Relief
Your cells have little power plants called mitochondria, which generate roughly 90% of your energy. They produce molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Mitochondria can get “stressed out” from reactive oxygen species (ROS), another term for free radicals. If your mitochondria lack enough antioxidants to counteract the free radicals, they can trigger cell death.
Tests on animals show that TUDCA helps relieve stressed mitochondria through producing more antioxidants to mitigate ROS. Rather than triggering cell death, they did the exact opposite. TUDCA sparked them to make more mitochondria. (9)
12. Energy Boost
Your cellular energy factories — mitochondria — want to work as efficient energy producers. But toxins, heavy metals, medications, viruses, etc. can sometimes stand in the way. These factors can change the mitochondrial membrane, making it more difficult for your mitochondria to release the energy molecules, or ATP. And your cells can’t use the energy without access. (10)
TUDCA may help your mitochondria release the ATP they produce. Studies with both animal and human cells show that TUDCA could help the mitochondrial membrane “export” the ATP trapped in the mitochondria.
In the presence of TUDCA, both types of cells had a significantly higher amount of ATP release than without. This means energy will no longer stay trapped in the mitochondria where your cells can’t access it. The ATP will instead exist in the cytoplasm, or watery part of your cells. (11)
13. Eye Protection
Your eye tissue is delicate and susceptible to damage. Too much intense light can cause cell death. Plus, diabetic complications may harm your retinas. A genetic disease, such as retinitis pigmentosa, can also lead to loss of vision.
Studies with TUDCA show that it may act as a potent protector of eye tissue. One study on animals with a genetic eye disease that leads to blindness found that TUDCA may prevent its progression. From 3 days old till 30 days old, these animals received TUDCA. The TUDCA-treated animals adjusted to dark and light two times better than the animals who didn’t receive TUDCA. Plus, the TUDCA-treated animals had five times more light receptors than the other animals at the 30-day mark. (12)
Another test on animals with eye damage from diabetic complications suggests a protective effect as well. With TUDCA, the number of dysfunctional eye cells went down significantly. Harmful proteins produced due to damage also decreased, helping to preserve eye tissue. (13)
14. Antiviral Properties
Viruses can wreak havoc on your system, some for short-term periods and others for many years. Either way, preventing the virus from replicating, or barring them from entering your cells, sounds like a good way to protect yourself from viral diseases, doesn't it?
Preliminary tests with TUDCA show that it may in fact help with both of those functions.
When your cells sense danger, they have an adaptive mechanism called endoplasmic reticulum stress, or ER stress. Viruses may use this adaptive response in order to replicate. And if the ER stress goes on for too long, it may trigger a cell to die.
In a lab, researchers examined what would happen if they pretreated human cells with TUDCA and then exposed them to the influenza A virus. They found that TUDCA prevented the cells from reaching excess ER stress due to the virus. TUDCA also seemed to prevent the influenza A virus from replicating. (14)
Another lab study with human liver cells reviewed the effect of TUDCA on the hepatitis B and D viruses. These viruses infect your cells by attaching themselves to receptors on the outside of the cellular membrane. Then they bust their way in, almost like picking a lock. Pretreating the cells with TUDCA essentially “covered the lock” so the hepatitis virus couldn’t gain access into the cell. (15)
15. Metabolism Stimulation
How many calories you burn depends on several factors. Two major factors are your body’s ability to utilize thyroid hormones and how “active” your brown fat cells in brown adipose tissue are, even at rest.
A test on animals suggests that TUDCA could help with both of those factors. It may help convert thyroid hormones to their active form and spark more cellular activity.
Animals given TUDCA for seven days were better able to utilize their thyroid hormones. TUDCA also seemed to stimulate how much oxygen their brown fat cells used, changing their body composition. Brown fat is sometimes described as “healthy fat” since it’s more metabolically active. In only seven days, the animals’ body fat went down by 1.9%, even though their food intake remained about the same each day. (16)
16. Heart Health Support
Your heart is one organ that never gets a break. It works constantly so it can pump oxygen and nutrients through your blood to all areas of your body. TUDCA can potentially aid in keeping it healthy.
When your heart is under too much pressure, it can enlarge and possibly malfunction. One study on animals suggests that TUDCA can decrease heart enlargement due to the effects of high blood pressure. TUDCA may also help to prevent scar tissue formation in the heart from the pressure. (17)
High blood sugar levels can make the cells lining the heart dysfunctional because of endoplasmic reticulum stress and can contribute to heart disease. A study on 12 healthy people suggests that TUDCA may help stabilize these cells. The people consumed a sugar drink and then TUDCA one hour later. The TUDCA seemed to prevent the cells lining the heart from becoming faulty. (18)
17. Heavy Metals Protection
You need certain metals to function well, such as organic, absorbable forms of iron and zinc. But other heavy metals, such as cadmium, aren’t usable by your body. Instead of helping you, these types of heavy metals spark endoplasmic reticulum stress. As earlier stated, too much ER stress can burden your cells to the point of cellular death.
An experiment on plants suggests that TUDCA can help to shield cells from stress linked to heavy metals. The studied plants had damage and ER stress after cadmium exposure. Then the researchers exposed them to TUDCA. TUDCA helped to lower the ER stress and damage from the heavy metal. (19)
18. Arthritis Relief
As you age, your joints may wear out. Special tissue called cartilage cushions the gaps between bones within your joints, helping them “slide” when you move rather than grind together. If that cartilage thins or gets damaged, you could have joint pain or osteoarthritis.
Results from one study suggest that TUDCA could help you with your joints. Researchers took cartilage cells from people with osteoarthritis. After exposing the cells to TUDCA, they started to replicate significantly more than the cells without TUDCA.
The TUDCA-treated cells also had less cholesterol in their membranes, making them more “squishy.” That effect may help joints to slide versus grind. Plus, TUDCA seemed to activate the genes related to making better cartilage. The TUDCA-treated cells had more protein and chondroitin sulfate — two components of healthy cartilage. (20)
“Put Me In Coach”
TUDCA is fairly new to the functional medicine world, but it's quickly becoming a front-runner amongst supplements. Its vast amount of potential benefits could leave other compounds in the dust.
Most people associate TUDCA with improving liver function and bile flow. But we see that it could help other organs, such as your brain, heart, kidneys, eyes, and gut. It may also support you on a cellular level by boosting your mitochondrial function, energy release, metabolism, and bar viruses from entering your cells. Plus, TUDCA could potentially protect you from heavy metals damage and support joint health.
More studies are needed, especially in people, but TUDCA has great opportunity to benefit many lives. Current information suggests that TUDCA is a multi-talented player, great in many different arenas.
In what health field could TUDCA help you become the victor?