In a series of animal experiments, researchers found that taurine supplements appeared to improve several hallmarks of aging and increase the lifespan of mice.
In a new study published on June 8 in Science, a team of Columbia University scientists, in collaboration with aging researchers, found evidence that taurine — an amino acid made by the body and present in some foods — appears to be a driver in the aging process.
What's more, taurine supplementation slowed the aging process in mice, worms, and monkeys, extending the lifespan of mice by as much as 12%, which is equivalent to seven to eight years in humans.
Uncovering taurine's anti-aging potential
Previous investigations found links between taurine levels and obesity, immune system function, and nervous system function, all of which are impacted by aging.
Because of these earlier findings, the researchers wondered if taurine plays a role in the regulation of aging and whether levels of the amino acid affect the aging process.
To investigate, the team examined taurine levels in mice, monkeys, and humans and discovered that these levels decrease significantly with age. For example, levels of taurine found in people aged 60 were about one-third found in five-year-old children.
Then the scientists fed middle-aged mice taurine supplements or a placebo and found that mice fed taurine had a 10% to 12% increase in average lifespan. That equates to about seven or eight human years.
In addition, the mice supplemented with taurine for one year were healthier in virtually every aspect compared to the control mice.
For example, in female mice, taurine curbed age-related weight gain — even in rodents that had gone through menopause. The rodents also had better muscle strength and endurance, expended more energy, and showed increased bone mass.
In addition, the taurine-fed mice displayed less depression and anxiety-like behaviors and had immune systems that appeared younger than their biological age.
The scientists also examined taurine's effects on a molecular level and found that the amino acid improved mitochondria performance, reduced DNA damage, and lowered the number of cells that linger and release toxins in the body.
Further investigations revealed that middle-aged monkeys fed taurine supplements daily for six months showed reduced fasting blood sugar and liver damage markers. Moreover, taurine supplementation prevented weight gain and improved bone density and immune system health.
To look into the potential benefits for humans, the team examined the relationship between 50 health factors and taurine levels in 12,000 European adults aged 60 and over. They found that adults with higher levels of the amino acid were healthier overall than those with lower levels.
"These are associations, which do not establish causation, but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging," says lead study author Vijay Yadav, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a news release.
In addition, the research team discovered that exercise increased taurine levels in both athletes and sedentary individuals.
"No matter the individual, all had increased taurine levels after exercise, which suggests that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from an increase in taurine," Yadav notes.
The study had few limitations. For example, the team did not test the impacts of taurine in male monkeys, and the human studies did not look at differences in taurine's effects between males and females.
Moreover, the study authors say that randomized clinical trials measuring health span and life span as outcomes in humans are needed to determine the health benefits of taurine.
However, Yadav says, "Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-aging strategy."