A lack of taurine, a nutrient produced in the body and usually added to energy or sports drinks, is a driver of ageing in animals. This is the result of a study involving ageing researchers around the world. The same study found that taurine supplements can slow down the ageing process in worms, mice and monkeys. But we're not sure what this means for humans yet.
In research centred around the effects of taurine on lifespan, remarkable results were observed in both female and male mice. Middle-aged female mice given higher taurine levels saw a roughly 12% lifespan increase compared to those without taurine. Researchers also noted a similar 10% lifespan increase in male mice with taurine supplementation. Overall, all mice enjoyed some pretty remarkable benefits.
“For the last 25 years, scientists have been trying to find factors that not only let us live longer, but also increase healthspan, the time we remain healthy in our old age,” lead author Vijay Yadav from Columbia University said in a statement. “This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”
The surprising effects of taurine
In the last twenty years, there’s been a growing focus on discovering interventions that enhance health during old age. A part of this comes from the the fact that people are living longer and this gives scientists direct insights into the ageing process. The number of people aged 65 or older is expected to increase from 1 in 11 in 2019 to 1 in 6 in 2050. Another part of this comes from improved technology and understanding of ageing in general.
While there's much we don't know yet, our understanding is improving.
Studies have found that certain molecules present in the bloodstream are linked to the ageing phenomenon. However, it's still unclear whether these molecules actively govern the ageing process or simply accompany it as bystanders. If a molecule is indeed a key contributor to ageing, rejuvenating it to its youthful levels could potentially delay the ageing process.
Yadav first became aware of taurine during his prior investigation of osteoporosis, where he discovered its significance in bone development. Coincidentally, during that period, other scientists were also uncovering the correlation between taurine levels and nervous system functions. This made him want to explore further taurine’s effects on overall health.
A wider experiment
Working with a group of researchers, Yadav looked at levels of taurine in the bloodstream of mice, monkeys and people and found taurine abundance decreases with age. In people, taurine levels in 60-year-old individuals were one-third of those found in five-year-old. “That’s when we started to ask if taurine deficiency is a driver of the ageing process,” Yadav said.
The study involved approximately 250 female and male mice, equivalent to individuals aged around 45 years old in human terms. The researchers conducted a daily feeding regimen in which half of the mice were provided with a concentrated dose of taurine, while the other half received a control solution. Those given taurine had an extra three to four months of lifespan.
The researchers then extended their study. They measured various health parameters in mice and found that at age 2, animals supplemented with taurine were healthier in almost every way. Taurine suppressed age-associated weight gain, increased energy expenditure, increased bone mass, improved muscle strength and reduced anxious behaviors.
Taurine also demonstrated significant cellular-level improvements in various functions that typically decline as individuals age. The supplement effectively reduced the presence of "zombie cells" that linger and release harmful substances instead of undergoing normal cell death. It also increased the abundance of stem cells in specific tissues.
The researchers found similar health effects of taurine in middle-aged rhesus monkeys, which were given daily taurine supplements for six months. Taurine prevented weight gain, decreased fasting blood glucose levels, and reduced indicators of liver damage. It also contributed to increased bone density in the spine and legs while also enhancing the overall immune system.
Effect on humans
While they don’t know yet whether taurine supplements will improve health or increase longevity in humans, the researchers are hopeful -- and this hope is based on two experiments. The first one looked at the relationship between taurine levels and health parameters in 12,000 European adults and found people with higher taurine levels were overall healthier.
They then did a second experiment to test whether taurine levels would respond to exercise. This is done by measuring taurine levels before and after athletes and sedentary individuals finished a cycling workout. The researchers found a significant increase in taurine in all individuals. This suggests the health benefits of exercise may come from an increase in taurine.
However, only a randomized clinical trial in humans will actually determine whether taurine has health benefits. There are taurine trials on work for obesity, but none are designed to measure a wider range of health parameters. “Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-ageing strategy,” Yadav said.
The study was published in the journal Science.