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TUDCA stands for tauroursodeoxycholic acid. It’s one of the most popular functional medicine and holistic health supplements right now, primarily because it provides support for the health of your liver, but it’s also good for brain health and cellular support. Below, we answer the following questions:
- What is TUDCA used for?
- Does TUDCA detox the liver?
- Can TUDCA reverse liver damage?
- Does TUDCA have side effects?
If you’re going to try a TUDCA supplement, my choices for the best ones include the following:
What is a TUDCA Supplement?
TUDCA is a derivative of a bile acid that naturally occurs in the body. TUDCA has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, primarily for liver disorders. Our body makes only tiny amounts of TUDCA, but it influences the function of many of our systems and parts of our bodies. For example, TUDCA is important for kidney and liver health, as well as brain health.
Bile acids are released from the gallbladder and help the body digest fats.
In healthy people, small amounts of TUDCA are produced. If you have certain health conditions, a poor diet, decreased liver function, or take some medications, it can affect your body’s ability to produce this essential TUDCA.
As far as being naturally occurring, TUDCA is formed when bacteria in the intestines break down bile salts, turning them into ursodeoxycholic acid or UDCA.
What is TUDCA Used For?
If you use TUDCA as a supplement, some of the things it’s used for include:
TUDCA improves bile flow which in turn can help with healthy digestion. TUDCA can also help you absorb dietary fats and nutrients. In research, TUDCA increases bile flow and improves bile composition, which gives it more compounds that promote healthy digestion.
Bile plays a critical role in your digestive health, and if you aren’t making enough, TUDCA can be an excellent supplement for support.
We’ll talk more below about the benefits of TUDCA for liver health because it’s a big reason people use this supplement. To briefly give an overview, TUDCA can promote liver health, including in people with liver disease. TUDCA can lower serum liver enzymes and may help with alcoholic liver damage and non-alcoholic fatty liver.
Cholestasis is where bile flow is blocked from the liver to the small intestine, creating an accumulation of acid and toxins. This can lead to cell death, and TUDCA may increase bile flow and reverse cholestasis.
Conditions related to cholestasis include liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, frequent oral steroid use, and excess liver enzymes.
Conditions like Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s can affect the healthy, normal function of the central nervous system and brain.
There’s evidence that TUDCA may help with some of these conditions. For example, in a study of ALS patients taking TUDCA supplements, they scored higher on a rating scale of improvement than participants who were given a placebo.
Even if you don’t have a neurological condition, there’s evidence to suggest TUDCA can protect the brain.
It appears that TUDCA can cross the blood-brain barrier and may improve cognitive function and memory.
TUDCA is classified as a chemical chaperone, a compound that helps return proteins to their proper location.
In studies with obese mice, TUDCA has been found to support insulin sensitivity and healthy blood sugar levels.
TUDCA is also thought to increase energy levels burned at the cellular level, which can affect how your body regulates insulin.
In a four-week study with a small group of participants who had insulin resistance, taking TUDCA daily improved insulin sensitivity by 30%.
People take TUDCA supplements to reduce inflammation. In particular, it appears TUDCA has an anti-inflammatory effect on glial cells, which promotes new neuronal growth. Glial cells are found in the central nervous system and are essential for nerve cell recovery after an injury, like a stroke.
Bile salts help your body break down food and nutrients and better absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. TUDCA can help your body absorb these essential nutrients more easily, improving overall health.
Gut Microbiome Health
Your intestines have a layer of cells called tight junctions that are meant to be gatekeepers to determine what can move in and out of the gut. If the tight junctions become too spread out or lose their integrity, things can pass through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream, called a leaky gut.
Protein messengers in the gut regulate tight junctions, signaling them to open or close. A TUDCA supplement can help these protein messengers perform correctly, which supports gut health and can help heal leaky gut.
TUDCA can also support gut health by promoting a healthy inflammation response.
Several studies show that TUDCA can support the health of your eyes and protect against eye conditions and complications. In animal studies, TUDCA has been shown to improve retinal degeneration and loss of vision, retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetic retinopathy.
Kidney Health and Protection
High sodium from our diets and imbalances in minerals are common issues contributing to poor kidney health. TUDCA can support kidney health and a healthy inflammation response.
Every cell in your body has mitochondria, which generate almost all of our body’s energy—about 90%. If the mitochondria don’t work the way they should, we can’t make enough ATP, which is the building block of our energy.
Dysfunction of the mitochondria is thought to be an underlying contributor to many chronic illnesses.
TUDCA can support the health of your mitochondria by producing more antioxidants and reducing free radicals. TUDCA can also support the proper apoptosis of cells at the right time. Apoptosis is a process that helps your body get rid of old, damaged, and defective cells. You can experience health issues if too many cells enter apoptosis at once or two, and TUDCA can stabilize this process.
Does TUDCA Detox the Liver?
Does TUDCA detox the liver? It can help your liver stay healthy and support your body’s natural detox pathways. Increasing the amount of TUDCA in your body can clean up your liver and help it detox your body. The primary way that TUDCA can help detox the liver is by increasing bile flow so the body can effectively move and eliminate toxins.
Can TUDCA Reverse Liver Damage?
Research shows that TUDCA can help with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by slowing its progression. It appears that TUDCA is also helpful for reversing liver damage or stopping its progression because of its positive effects on intestinal inflammation, intestinal barrier function, and microbiota composition.
In a study with mice, TUDCA helped reduce hepatic steatosis, inflammatory responses, and obesity. TUDCA can also reduce inflammatory cytokine levels and improve intestinal barrier function, decreasing intestinal fat transport.
TUDCA can also help support the regeneration of liver cells, which is of interest to someone with liver damage.
In one study of patients with chronic active hepatitis, patients taking TUDCA had significantly lower liver serum enzyme levels at one month, and they reached a maximum effect after three months. In that study, TUDCA lowered AST levels by 44% and ALT levels by an average of 49%.
Does TUDCA Have Side Effects?
Generally, TUDCA supplements are considered safe when taking the recommended dose. In some reports of people taking large amounts of more than 1500 mg a day, there were reports of diarrhea. Besides diarrhea at high doses, we couldn’t find major side effects associated with TUDCA use.
TUDCA Supplements—Final Thoughts
TUDCA is primarily used for supporting the body’s natural detox pathways, and TUDCA positively affects the health of the liver, kidneys, mitochondria, and brain. TUDCA is also used for improving digestion, reducing leaky gut, and helping with type 2 diabetes. It’s an excellent supplement to consider adding to your routine but remember to ask your healthcare provider before trying anything new.
Palmieri, P. Portincasa V. et al. “Effect of tauroursodeoxycholic acid on serum liver enzymes and dyspeptic symptoms in patients with chronic active hepatitis.” Current Therapeutic Research, May 1993. Accessed January 11, 2023.
Wang, Weijun, et al. “Tauroursodeoxycholic acid inhibits intestinal inflammation and barrier disruption in mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.” British Journal of Pharmacology, February 2018. Accessed January 11, 2023.
Vang, Sheila, et al. “The Unexpected Uses of Urso and Tauroursodeoxycholic Acid in the Treatment of Non-Liver Diseases.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, May 2014. Accessed January 11, 2023.
Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. “TUDCA.” February 24, 2017. Accessed January 11, 2023.