- TUDCA (tauroursodeoxycholic acid) is a unique bile acid found in small amounts in the overall composition of bile. It has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years as a digestive aid and liver support, and now we are able to produce it as a supplement.
- TUDCA’s many benefits include digestive support (especially for fats), promoting liver and kidney function, brain health, cellular support, and eye health.*
- TUDCA is recommended by thousands of medical professionals and healthcare practitioners around the world.
TUDCA is a new star in the functional medicine world, quickly advancing as a front-runner amongst supplements due to its many potential benefits, including brain health, liver health, mitochondria and cellular support, and more.*
In this article, we’ll explore:
What is TUDCA (Tauroursodeoxycholic Acid)?
TUDCA is a bile acid derivative that occurs naturally in the body. Like many compounds in your body, TUDCA is made through a microbial process.
Firstly, bile salts are released into your intestines through the liver bile duct. Microbes in your large intestine then metabolize the bile salts into ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). Next, it gets conjugated to taurine (an amino acid) in order to create TUDCA. This whole process happens naturally in your body and is supported when you have a healthy amount of bile salts.
A healthy person produces very small amounts of TUDCA, recycling about 95% of their bile salts via enterohepatic circulation (the process that occurs when bile is absorbed through the intestines and returned to the liver via the hepatic portal vein). However, poor diet, decreased liver function, and certain medications can impair this process.*
Although humans only make small amounts of TUDCA, this bile salt influences many bodily functions, from the brain to kidneys function to eye health and more, which is why TUDCA supplementation can be beneficial.
The Role of TUDCA in the Body
TUDCA is a bile acid — but what does that mean? Bile represents a complex fluid made of bile acids, phospholipids, cholesterol, water, electrolytes, and other organic molecules. Bile acids are the most functional component of bile. They help us digest and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, break down food and cholesterol, and destroy harmful pathogens that enter the digestive system on our food.* Through these processes, bile helps the body eliminate waste, excrete unnecessary cholesterol, and regulate your metabolism. In particular, bile acids convert and eliminate around 500 mg of cholesterol from the body every day.
How is bile produced? The liver produces bile, which is concentrated and stored in the gallbladder, then secreted into the digestive system via the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine beyond the stomach). Bile travels through the digestive system until it is recycled and sent back to the liver once it reaches the ileum. Only 5% is excreted, the rest is recycled and repackaged as “new” bile in the liver. This process is known as enterohepatic circulation.
Recycling and producing new bile is a very energy intensive process for the body. If your liver and gallbladder are overburdened or a little sluggish, creating new bile becomes even more difficult. That’s where TUDCA supplementation can be helpful, often alongside ox bile and digestive enzymes.
Is TUDCA Supplementation New?
No. TUDCA has been used therapeutically in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia, particularly for hepatic and biliary disorders. Namely, traditional medical practitioners prescribe TUDCA to help detoxify the liver, treat “heat illnesses” such as fever, spasms, and vision problems, and improve many other conditions.
Today, TUDCA has earned its place in the therapeutic spotlight as scientists continue to learn about its many potential health benefits.
What’s the Difference Between UDCA and TUDCA Bile Salts?
TUDCA stands for tauroursodeoxycholic acid, while UDCA stands for ursodeoxycholic acid. They are both bile salts, but UDCA is the more common form. When the intestinal microbiota (the gut flora) produce “secondary bile acids,” they make UDCA first. When UDCA metabolizes in the lower intestine, it binds to taurine to become TUDCA.*
10 TUDCA Benefits
Bile in general plays many roles in the body. From aiding in digestion to maximizing vitamin absorption or eliminating waste, bile acids support a wide range of functions.
TUDCA is a bile acid that performs its job exceptionally well. Though humans only produce a small amount of it, the benefits of TUDCA are varied and widespread. TUDCA is thought to support:*
- Brain function
- Liver health
- Kidney health
- Eye health
- Cellular health
- Gut microbiome
- Bile flow
1. Brain Health
Nootropics — substances that can help boost brain performance — have skyrocketed in popularity recently. TUDCA may be a good fit if you’re looking to support memory and cognitive function.* TUDCA crosses the blood-brain barrier and has become a promising subject in the scientific community for its protective effects on the brain.*
TUDCA is classified into a group of molecules known as chemical chaperones. These can be described as compounds that support correct protein formation and distribution throughout the body. In this role, research studies show that TUDCA works to provide multi-system support.* It also acts to support mitochondrial stabilization and supports the prevention of cell death in several models of neurological disease.* TUDCA also provides neuroprotective support with aging.*
2. Supports Insulin Sensitivity*
Stress to the cell’s endoplasmic reticulum (ER), sometimes shortened to “ER stress,” may cause many conditions that seem unrelated, as in diabetes. In lab animals given chemically-induced high blood sugar, for example, one study found a 43% reduction in blood glucose when treated with TUDCA.*
It’s well known that bile acids are critically important for the digestive
process, but they also act as signaling molecules in many tissues and
organs. One of these organs is the pancreas, which expresses specific receptors that regulate many cell functions including blood sugar regulation.
While the implications of taking TUDCA for weight loss are still unclear, studies carried out with obese, overfed mice show that TUDCA supported healthy blood sugar levels and supported insulin sensitivity.*
TUDCA is believed to increase energy burned at the cellular level, potentially affecting how the body regulates insulin. High blood sugar levels due to poor insulin use (high glucose levels) can actually damage endothelial cells — the cells lining blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and organs and cause oxidative stress. Under oxidative stress, TUDCA has been found to help support cellular health in the presence of too much glucose (sugar).*
The trace mineral chromium has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar. See our article to learn more about the benefits of chromium.
3. Mitochondria and Cellular Support
Every single one of your cells has little power plants inside them called mitochondria. These tiny organelles generate roughly 90 percent of our body’s energy. When our mitochondria aren’t functioning properly, we aren’t able to make adequate amounts of ATP, our energetic building blocks.
Mitochondrial dysfunction is often at the root of many chronic illnesses, and TUDCA has been shown to support mitochondrial health and improve energy output by producing more antioxidants and mitigating reactive oxygen species (free radicals).* Rather than triggering cell death, the exact opposite occurred, with TUDCA sparking the cells to make more mitochondria.* Prevention of premature cell death may affect us in many unexpected yet positive ways, reaching cells in the lining of organs such as the brain, heart, liver, and colon, as well as blood vessels and more.
The process of programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is a natural response to stress caused by viruses, free radicals, and cellular mutations. Apoptosis typically helps weed out old and defective cells through cellular disintegration. Sometimes, though, the wrong cells begin apoptosis, or the correct cells start apoptosis at the wrong time. Additionally, too many cells may enter apoptosis at once, or too few. When too few enter, it’s called excessive inhibited apoptosis, a condition associated with several diseases and conditions. TUDCA may support the regulation and stabilization of apoptosis to occur in the right cells at the right time.*
4. Supports Genetic Expression
Amazingly, TUDCA may even impact your gene expression and DNA in certain ways. By reducing oxidative damage, stimulating mitochondrial function, and regulating apoptosis, TUDCA can also protect your DNA from damage.*
In vitro studies have shown that TUDCA inhibited DNA fragmentation in neuronal cells, increasing rates of cell survival.*
5. Liver Health
TUDCA supports overall liver health.* A study was conducted on a group of people suffering from liver cirrhosis and high liver enzymes, who were given 750 milligrams (mg) of TUDCA for six months. TUDCA lowered one hundred percent of the participants’ liver enzymes.* As a bonus, supplementing with this bile acid was very well tolerated amongst the study participants, with no participants experiencing any side effects.
FAQ: Can TUDCA reverse fatty liver?
No, TUDCA has not been found to reverse fatty liver disease, but studies have shown that TUDCA may reduce overall liver damage, oxidative stress, and more.* Adding TUDCA to your protocol for fatty liver disease may be beneficial — consult with your provider before changing or adding to your treatment plan.*
6. Supports a Healthy Gut Microbiome
The lining of your intestines has a thin layer of cells that create gates called tight junctions. These are the gatekeepers that determine what gets in and out of the gut — and into the bloodstream. When our tight junctions lose integrity or spread out too far, they allow things that shouldn’t be in the bloodstream to pass through our intestinal lining. This phenomenon is called leaky gut.
Protein messengers in your gut regulate tight junctions, and these messengers signal the junctions to open or close, just like a gate. As a chemical chaperone, TUDCA helps these messengers to perform at their optimal levels, helping to support gut integrity and health.* TUDCA has also been shown to support microbiome health by promoting a healthy inflammation response.*
7. Kidney Protection
Mineral imbalances and excessive sodium in our diets are very common problems in our society. Soil mineral depletion combined with processed food consumption creates a recipe for poor kidney health. Studies show that TUDCA supports a healthy inflammation response in the kidneys.*
8. Defends Against Pathogens
TUDCA has been shown in studies to support a healthy immune response, particularly in response to certain viral infections.* As a bile acid, it also helps destroy any unwanted bacteria or other pathogens that enter your digestive system with your food. This is one of the reasons it’s extremely important to have adequate bile production and flow from the liver and gallbladder.
9. Eye Health
Could TUDCA be a potent protector of eye health? According to a number of research studies, the answer is yes! TUDCA supports eye health and protects against a number of eye health complications, as well as reduces the number of dysfunctional eye cells.* If you’re looking to maintain peak eye health until you’re a centenarian, TUDCA may be just the support you’re looking for.
10. Bile Flow Support
To end the benefits with a bang — TUDCA has been shown to increase bile flow by as much as 250 percent!* Not only does the research show that individuals who supplement with TUDCA experienced an increase in bile, but the composition of their bile also changed. It morphed into bile that contained higher amounts of compounds that positively assist digestion.
How to Increase TUDCA Levels with Supplements
We mentioned earlier that the body naturally produces TUDCA, but only in very small amounts, as most of your bile salts are recycled and recirculated through the digestive system. Your natural TUDCA production can be further slowed down by:
- Microbiome dysbiosis caused by parasites, harmful bacteria, or yeast overgrowth
- Stress on the liver, such as excess free radicals and not enough antioxidants
- Systemic inflammation
- Nervous system dysregulation due to chronic stress
- Gallbladder function issues (see: TUDCA for gallstones)
- Chronic disease, especially concentrated in the areas where TUDCA is needed, like the liver, kidneys, brain, and intestines.
When the liver is struggling to produce adequate bile salts, or you want to introduce fresh bile salts to support digestion and detoxification, TUDCA supplementation can be helpful.
You may want to consider supplementing TUDCA for:
- Digestive support, especially fat digestion
- Detoxification and liver support
- Supporting insulin sensitivity
- Eye health
- Neuroprotective health
- Maintenance of key cellular processes, including apoptosis
- Microbiome support
There isn’t a standardized dosage for TUDCA, but research on TUDCA has shown it to be effective in adults using doses between 250-1500 mg.* It is not recommended to take more than 1500 mg per day. Always work with a medical professional to determine the right dosage for you.
TUDCA side effects
TUDCA supplements are considered safe when taken within the recommended dosage amounts. When exceeding 1500 mg daily, however, some people have reported experiencing diarrhea. Aside from that complication, there are no other reported side effects for TUDCA.
Given the limited research on TUDCA supplementation during pregnancy and nursing, it’s advised that pregnant or nursing women avoid it.
Anyone with underlying medical conditions should speak to a doctor before using TUDCA as it may interact with other medications.
Always consult with your health care provider before adding supplements to your daily routine. They can help you determine whether TUDCA is the right choice for you.
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