- Taurine is a compound found in humans as well as dairy products and some energy drinks.
- In a study, researchers say taurine was effective as an anti-aging agent that promoted longevity in mice.
- Experts say the findings are promising, but more research needs to be done by humans.
A deficiency in the nutrient taurine appears to drive aging in animals, but experts say more research is needed to determine if the same effect is found in humans.
A study published today in the journal Science reports that supplements of taurine slowed the aging process in monkeys, mice and worms and extended the healthy lifespan of mice in middle age by up to 12%.
“For the last 25 years, scientists have been trying to find factors that not only let us live longer, but also increase health span, the time we remain healthy in our old age,” Vijay Yadav, PhD, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of genetics & development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, said in a press statement.
“This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives,” Dr. Yadav added.
In undertaking their study, the researchers first examined the levels of taurine in the blood of monkeys, mice and people and discovered that levels decreased significantly with age.
In humans, they found that taurine levels in 60-year-olds were only a third of those found in 5-year-olds.
“That’s when we started to ask if taurine deficiency is a driver of the aging process, and we set up a large experiment with mice,” Yadav said.
The researchers examined 250 mice who were roughly 45 years of age in human terms. Each day the mice were either given taurine or a control solution.
The mice that were given taurine had an increased lifespan of 12% in females and 10% in males. This equates to roughly seven to eight human years, or three to four months in mice years.
The researchers also reported that the animals who were given taurine for a year were healthier across almost all measures when compared with the other group. They had increased energy expenditure, an increase in bone mass, reductions in depression and anxiety-like behaviors, improved muscle strength and endurance, and a reduction of insulin resistance.
Similar positive benefits were also seen in monkeys who were given taurine.
Taurine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in foods with protein such as meat, fish and dairy products. Taurine is also added to some energy drinks.
Lauri Wright, PhD, the president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told MNT: “Taurine is considered ‘nonessential’ because our body can make it.”
“Taurine has many roles in the body including working as a neurotransmitter in the brain. [It] forms bile salts that aid in digestion and support the nervous system,” she added.
According to Dr. Wright, taurine’s affect on the human body is an area of interest and it’s likely that more studies into the compound will occur.
“Because of the abundance of taurine in the body and its role [in] the nervous system, there has been increasing interest in the role of taurine in aging. I think we will soon see some taurine studies with humans,” she said.
It is not yet known if taurine supplements will increase longevity or improve the health of humans.
However, studies by researchers in European adults suggest there may be potential.
They examined the health parameters of 12,000 adults in Europe ages 60 and over. The researchers reported that people who had higher levels of taurine were healthier and had lower levels of obesity, lower inflammation levels, reduced frequency of hypertension, and fewer cases of type 2 diabetes.
“These are associations, which do not establish causation,” Yadav said. “But the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging.”
The researchers say a randomized clinical trial in humans is needed to determine the true health benefits of taurine.
Anti-aging and promoting longevity is a growing body of research.
Nutrition and diet are just some of the factors believed to speed up or slow down aging.
“Diet and certain deficiencies can impact longevity through various mechanisms. It really depends on what the nutrient is and if it’s an overall diet quality factor. But, many animal studies show that a slight caloric deficit increases longevity. We know physical activity increases longevity,”
Dana Hunnes, PhD, a senior clinical dietitian at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, told MNT.
“We also know that certain vitamin or mineral deficiencies (ie. vitamin A or iron) can lead to shorter lifespans and we also know very unhealthy highly processed and high-meat diets lower longevity by increasing the risk for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So yes, what we eat definitely makes an impact,” Dr. Hunnes said.
Taurine naturally occurs in the human body and a deficiency of taurine in humans is rare.
The experts who spoke with MNT say the best way to slow down the aging process through nutrition is to follow a healthy and well-balanced diet.
“An overall plan to improve health and long life would be a Mediterranean diet or MIND diet that delivers antioxidants with fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, fish and whole grains,” Dr. Wright said.