NEW YORK — Could a supplement help add an extra decade to your life? Researchers from Columbia University, alongside several aging researchers from across the globe, may have found the key to longevity. In animals, a deficiency in taurine, an amino acid made by the body and found in many foods, appears to have a strong link to the aging process.
Their work shows that taurine supplements can actually slow down aging in worms, mice, and monkeys — even going so far as to extend the lifespans of middle-aged mice by up to 12 percent.
“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,” says the study’s leader, Vijay Yadav, PhD, an assistant professor of genetics & development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives,” Yadav adds in a university release.
It’s no secret that people are living longer now compared to hundreds of years ago, thanks to public health and medical interventions that help improve longevity. Over the last 20 years, scientists have put even more effort into improving health outcomes among older people now that they know the aging process can be modified and extended.
Several studies have found that different molecules which travel through our blood have a link to aging. However, it’s unclear if these molecules play an actual role, or if they’re just floating by in the blood. If a specific molecule is found to be a driver of aging, then scientists can use it to delay aging and increase the amount of healthy years people have to live.
Yadav first considered taurine during his past research, which explored osteoporosis. He found that taurine played a valuable role in building the bone. Other researchers were finding that taurine levels had an association with immune function, obesity, and the nervous system around the same time.
“We realized that if taurine is regulating all these processes that decline with age, maybe taurine levels in the bloodstream affect overall health and lifespan,” says Yadav.
To carry out this study, Yadav and the team examined taurine levels in the bloodstream of mice, monkeys, and people — finding that levels drop significantly with age. In 60-year-old humans, levels were only close to a third of those found in five-year-old kids.
“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,” explains Yadav.
The team studied approximately 250 14-month-old male and female mice, which is equivalent to a 45-year-old person. Half received taurine and another half received a control solution daily. By the end, the team found that taurine increased average lifespans by 12 percent in female mice and 10 percent in males. For mice, this means an increase in lifespan of three to four months. For humans, this translates to seven to eight years.
The team then widened their scope to see how taurine affects different species. Yadav had other aging experts measure different health parameters in mice and found that at age two (60 human years), animals that received taurine supplements for a year were significantly healthier across the board compared to those who didn’t. The amino acid successfully suppressed age-associated weight gain in females (even during menopause), increased energy expenditure and bone mass, improved bone strength and endurance, and even reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The same results were noted in middle-aged rhesus monkeys who received taurine for six months. It successfully prevented weight gain, lowered fasting blood glucose levels, as well as liver damage markers. Bone density in the spine and legs increased, and immune system health improved as well.
Taurine even improved things down to the cellular level. The supplement lowered the amount of old cells that don’t die off and instead wreak havoc on the body (“zombie cells”), decreased DNA damage, and improved the ability of cells to sense nutrients.
Although these results are very promising, the team can’t yet conclude that taurine supplements will improve health and longevity in people, but two of their experiments definitely suggest that there’s potential.
Yadav and his team examined the relationship between taurine levels and around 50 health parameters in 12,000 European adults 60 and over. Results showed that overall, the healthier people had higher taurine levels. There were less cases of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and inflammation.
“These are associations, which do not establish causation,” Yadav says, “but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging.”
For the second experiment, the team tested how taurine levels would respond to exercise, measuring levels before and after in male athletes and sedentary people who finished a cycling workout. There was a significant boost in taurine among everyone.
“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 says.
The only way to have more certainty is to do a randomized clinical trial. Taurine trials are already in the works for obesity, but none currently are looking at other health parameters.
Regardless, Yadav knows this substance could be pivotal for human health.
“Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-aging strategy.”
The findings are published in the journal Science.