TUDCA (Tauroursodeoxycholic Acid) Benefits and Medical Uses


TUDCA has been a part of Chinese medicine for at least hundreds of years, although its beginnings are not quite clear. It is naturally produced by our bodies as a water-soluble bile salt, in order to protect our liver from acids produced in our body. Though only trace amounts are found in our bodies, animals such as bears have large amounts of TUDCA in their bile. In fact, up to 75% of the bile in the Asian Black Bear is TUDCA. Because Chinese medicine has used animal bile to assist with ailments for hundreds of years, we can only assume this is how the usage of TUDCA began.

Put simply, TUDCA is the taurine conjugate form of UDCA or ursodeoxycholic acid. While TUDCA is not FDA approved in the United States, UDCA actually is, particularly for the treatment of autoimmune disease in the liver. In 1954, Japan began producing synthetic TUDCA and UDCA, making it easier to obtain and also study.

It is a water-soluble bile salt, which is in contrast to regular bile salts possessing both water soluble and fat soluble ends and conferring a detergent effect. When bile acids back up in the liver, a clinical state called cholestasis which occurs when the liver is unhealthy, these bile salts can be damaging to cells by destroying the membranes and signaling for cell death. TUDCA and other bile salts like UDCA compete with this toxicity, and thus indirectly protect cells from death, making it a treatment option for those with this liver disease.

It was also used to improve vision in the past, which is still reflected in many recent studies that show its role in protecting the retina, rods, and cones. One can only imagine how complex it seemed during that era to protect one’s vision, so TUDCA was held in quite a high regard. In 1263, the first remedy for sight weakness was merely mentioned, corrective lenses, but it wasn’t until 1286 that spectacles were even invented, and it took until 1604 for Johannes Kepler to describe the function of the retina, demonstrating lenses to correct both near and far cited issues. As one can easily determine, before this time, it was extremely important to be proactive with one’s eye care, as there were virtually no solutions to fix bad vision.

What Does TUDCA Do?

TUDCA has shown to be effective at treating a variety of health issues, but primarily it is used for decreasing liver enzymes and treating cholestasis. TUDCA has been shown to improve liver healing rates in both steatotic and non-steatotic livers via ER stress reduction. In one study, TUDCA resulted in less cell death via alleviating a mechanism known to accelerate cell apoptosis and also suppressed the actions of IRE-1and PKR-like ER kinase. This cell protective effect has also been seen in the epithelial cells of bile ducts, which are damaged during chronic hepatitis.

TUDCA has also been shown to be what is called an “anti-apoptotic agent” for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and other more rare conditions. For retinal disorders, it can reduce stress associated with increased glucose levels, and maintain healthy vision while protecting the cones and rods.

Finally, TUDCA has also been shown to help with obesity, strokes, spinal cord injuries and even myocardial infection in limited studies. It is also used for improving the immune system in general, as well as protecting skeletal muscles and organs, including the heart. Because of this, it is often beneficial in protecting the gallbladder. Because of the way TUDCA works, it can actually promote healthy cholesterol levels while protecting the liver.

However, it should be noted that any effects from usage of TUDCA beyond the liver are preliminary, whereas studies showing its impact on liver enzyme levels and cholestasis are quite reliable, as TUDCA is already being used in clinical settings for these purposes.

Scientific Studies

In 2010, Stanford University published a summary of scientific findings on their “HOPES” website, which showed promising results for tauroursodeoxycholic acid, or TUDCA, particularly among those suffering from Huntington’s. Because one of the major ailments of Huntington’s is caused mostly by the death of nerve cells in the brain, stopping or delaying these cell deaths can cause major disease improvement. Part of this cell death has been concluded to be initiated by apoptosis, a programmed cell death. As Stanford concluded, research shows that TUDCA is able to prevent apoptosis in liver cells, suggesting that this effect may be able to be replicated in the brain. By protecting mitochondria, TUDCA is able to decrease degeneration while preventing cell death. Because animal studies have proven to be so effective, Stanford suggests that more clinical trials involving humans should be performed, particularly concerning cell death.

In Beijing, they began doing just that. On clinicaltrials.gov, one can see that in 2013, the Beijing Trendful Kangjian Medical Information Consulting Limited Company began recruiting for a study whose results have not yet been published. In China, TUDCA is approved by the state food and government association for cholesterol stone treatments. The study, that is now complete, aimed to evaluate the efficacy of TUDCA in patients with Cholestatic Liver Disease, and the findings are expected by many to be positive when released.

How to Take TUDCA

Doses as low as 10mg daily have shown to improve liver regenesis in clinically ill patients. To improve bile salt composition, a dose of around 15-20mg/kg bodyweight is ideal according to early studies.

For most people, dosages of 200 to 300 milligrams twice daily can be taken. It is worth noting, however, that dosage should correspond with weight, so women, or men who weigh less than average, should adjust their dosage accordingly. The maximum recommended dose for treatment of fatty liver disease is 1.7g per day.

TUDCA is often sold in powder form, which can be added to shakes or water, and many find that the powder form is more affordable and may even make their own capsules based on the recommended dosage. It is easily found in capsule form, however, and the suggested daily intakes are the same regardless of the method. For extra precaution, check with the manufacturer’s directions, as your product may contain different levels of concentrations.

For those specifically looking for liver benefits, such as those who want to maintain a healthy liver while treating ailments with modern medicine, it is highly suggested to pair this supplement with milk thistle, as the two work well together for protecting the liver.

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