Recent research suggests that the amino acid taurine could be an "elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives."
A deficiency of taurine (a nutrient produced in the body, as well as many foods) is a driver of aging in animals, according to a new study led by Columbia researchers and involving dozens of aging researchers around the world.
The same study also found that taurine supplements can slow down the aging process and can even extend the healthy lifespans of middle-aged mice by up to 12%. These experts measured various health parameters in mice and found that animals supplemented with taurine for one year were healthier in almost every way than their untreated counterparts.
The researchers found that taurine suppressed, age-associated, weight gain in female mice, increased energy expenditure, increased bone mass, improved muscle endurance and strength, reduced depression-like and anxious behaviors, reduced insulin resistance, and promoted a younger-looking immune system, among other benefits.
"Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, but we also found that they're living healthier lives".
At a cellular level, taurine improved many functions that usually decline with age. The supplement decreased the number of senescent cells, increased survival after telomerase deficiency, increased the number of stem cells present in some tissues (which can help tissues heal after injury), improved the performance of mitochondria, reduced DNA damage, and improved the cells' ability to sense nutrients.
Similar health effects of taurine supplements were seen in middle-aged rhesus monkeys, which were given daily taurine supplements for six months. Taurine prevented weight gain, reduced fasting blood glucose and markers of liver damage, increased bone density in the spine and legs, and improved the health of their immune systems.
Researchers has yet to prove if taurine supplements will improve health or increase longevity in humans, but two recent experiments they conducted suggest taurine has potential.
In the first, they looked at the relationship between taurine levels and approximately 50 health parameters in 12,000 European adults aged 60 and over. Overall, people with higher taurine levels were healthier, with fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity levels, reduced hypertension, and lower levels of inflammation. These associations do not establish causation, but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging.
The second study tested if taurine levels would respond to an intervention known to improve health: exercise. The researchers measured taurine levels before and after a variety of male athletes and sedentary individuals finished a strenuous cycling workout and found a significant increase in taurine among all groups of athletes (sprinters, endurance runners, and natural bodybuilders) 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."