Boosting this amino acid, not telomeres, may be the secret to a longer lifespan

A diagram showing the main findings of the study.

Scientists have discovered not only that animals age faster when they don’t get enough of the amino acid taurine in the body, but that oral taurine supplements can delay aging and boost healthy living.

An international team of researchers found that taurine supplements delayed aging in worms, mice and monkeys and increased the healthy lifespan of middle-aged mice by up to 12%.

“For the past 25 years, scientists have been trying to find factors that not only allow us to live longer, but also increase health span, the length of time we remain healthy in our old age,” says biologist Vijay Yadav of the Columbia University, senior author of the study.

“This study suggests that taurine may be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”

Taurine occurs naturally in meat, fish and dairy products, but rarely in plants. Humans can synthesize taurine, although nutritional sources are often needed during early childhood as infants’ bodies are unable to produce it.

Research on taurine has shown benefits in diabetes and antioxidant action, but its role in many cases is unclear.

“We realized that if taurine regulates all these processes that decrease with age, maybe taurine levels in the bloodstream affect overall health and lifespan,” says Yadav.

“We started asking whether taurine deficiency is a driver of the aging process and set up a large experiment with mice.”

Not just mice. Yadav and colleagues analyzed blood taurine concentrations at different ages in monkeys and also in humans for the latter, using data from another study.

Taurine levels have been found to decrease with age in a variety of species, including humans, by approximately 80% over the course of a typical human lifetime.

But when oral taurine supplements were given to worms and middle-aged mice, their mean life spans increased by 10-23% and 10-12%, respectively.

In mice, taurine supplementation improved strength, coordination, memory and markers of aging. Mice that lacked the master transporter that carries the amino acid into cells lived shorter lives as adults.

When taurine was given to middle-aged rhesus macaques (mulatto macaque) over six months, there were dramatic improvements in bone density, blood sugar levels, and markers of liver and immune function.

“Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, but we also found that they live healthier lives,” Yadav explains.

The analysis also showed that people with obesity and diabetes had lower blood taurine levels, while people who exercised had higher levels.

A diagram showing the main findings of the study.
Taurine supplementation makes pets healthier and live longer. A simplified representation of the experiments and results. (Columbia University Irving Medical Center)

“This is interesting to us because it may explain part of the health benefits of exercise and anti-aging effects,” says molecular exercise physiologist Henning Wackerhage of the Technical University of Munich.

“Taurine appears to influence all of the established hallmarks of aging,” the researchers write in their published paper.

Physiologists Joseph McGaunn and Joseph Baur of the University of Pennsylvania, who were not involved in the study, write in a prospective paper that “in particular, causality remains to be tested.”

The Perspective adds that taurine is incorporated extensively in infant formula and energy drinks with no significant suggested risks, but it’s important to consider the potential risks and interactions with other factors.

“A singular focus on increasing dietary taurine risks leading to poor nutritional choices because plant-rich diets are associated with human health and longevity,” write McGaunn and Baur.

“Thus, like any intervention, taurine supplementation with the goal of improving human health and longevity should be approached with caution.”

Large long-term human randomized control trials are needed, and while no toxic effects associated with taurine are known, the doses used in the study have rarely been used in humans.

Incredible advances in medical science mean our population is living longer, and increasing quality of life matters too. Scientists have previously found clues to aging “gracefully” in poop telomeres and transplants, and now taurine looks promising.

“While it is currently difficult to say whether taurine supplementation will be an antiaging therapy based on our studies in different species and our intervention in monkeys, it is reasonable to at least test it,” says Yadav.

The research was published in Science.

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