Effect of taurine supplementation on growth and development in preterm or low birth weight infants

Taurine is an amino acid that helps infants absorb fat from the gastrointestinal tract and ensures that the liver deals with waste products efficiently. Taurine may also have important roles in protecting nerves from damage, especially in the eyes and ears. This review sought evidence that supplementing the diet of preterm and low birth weight infants with taurine improves their growth and development. Nine small trials were found, but these did not provide any evidence that providing extra taurine improved outcomes. However, further trials of taurine supplementation are not likely to take place since taurine is naturally present in breast milk and current standard practice is to add taurine to formula milk and to intravenous nutrition solutions for feeding preterm and low birth weight infants.

Authors' conclusions: 

Despite that lack of evidence of benefit from randomised controlled trials, it is likely that taurine will continue to be added to formula milks and parenteral nutrition solutions used for feeding preterm and low birth weight infants given the putative association of taurine deficiency with various adverse outcomes. Further randomised controlled trials of taurine supplementation versus no supplementation in preterm or low birth weight infants are unlikely to be viewed as a research priority, but there may be issues related to dose or duration of supplementation in specific subgroups of infants that merit further research.

Read the full abstract...

Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in breast milk. Evidence exists that taurine has important roles in intestinal fat absorption, hepatic function, and auditory and visual development in preterm or low birth weight infants. Observational data suggest that relative taurine deficiency during the neonatal period is associated with adverse long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants. Current standard practice is to supplement formula milk and parenteral nutrition solutions with taurine.


To assess the effect of providing supplemental taurine for enterally or parenterally fed preterm or low birth weight infants on growth and development.

Search strategy: 

The standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group was used. This included searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2007), MEDLINE (1966 - June 2007), EMBASE (1980 - June 2007), conference proceedings, and previous reviews.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials that compared taurine supplementation versus no supplementation in preterm or low birth weight newborn infants.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data were extracted using the standard methods of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group, with separate evaluation of trial quality and data extraction by two review authors, and synthesis of data using relative risk, risk difference and weighted mean difference.

Main results: 

Nine small trials were identified. In total, 189 infants participated. Most participants were greater than 30 weeks gestational age at birth and were clinically stable. In eight of the studies, taurine was given enterally with formula milk. Only one small trial assessed parenteral taurine supplementation. Taurine supplementation increased intestinal fat absorption [weighted mean difference 4.0 (95% confidence interval 1.4, 6.6) percent of intake]. However, meta-analyses did not reveal any statistically significant effects on growth parameters assessed during the neonatal period or until three to four months chronological age [rate of weight gain: weighted mean difference -0.25 (95% confidence interval -1.16, 0.66) grams/kilogram/day; change in length: weighted mean difference 0.37 (95% confidence interval -0.23, 0.98) millimetres/week; change in head circumference: weighted mean difference 0.15 (95% confidence interval -0.19, 0.50) millimeters/week]. There are very limited data on the effect on neonatal mortality or morbidities, and no data on long-term growth or neurological outcomes.