We certainly wouldn’t recommend Red Bull. But it does contain a fascinating sulfur-rich amino acid designed to enhance physical performance. It’s called taurine. Outside the athletic community there’s little interest in this nutrient. Ignoring it would be a big mistake, however, because the latest research shows that taurine extends a healthy lifespan and can help slow down the way you age.
In fact, the data is so compelling that a new study describes a deficiency of taurine as “a driver of aging.” This begs the question, are you getting enough?
Our bodies naturally produce taurine from another amino acid, cysteine. But it isn’t used to synthesize protein, so it’s considered conditionally essential. Taurine is found all over the body with important functions in the heart, brain, eyes, digestion, and the immune system.
Its connection to aging wasn’t suspected until 2012 when Vijay Yadav, Assistant Professor of Genetics and Development at Columbia University, and colleagues, discovered blood levels of taurine in humans sink dramatically with age. In fact, the elderly have a mere one fifth of the taurine levels found in the young.
Professor Yadav has been researching taurine and its role in human aging ever since. He’s found that taurine helps build healthy bones. Add that to other research linking taurine with immune function, obesity, and nervous system functionss and Professor Yadav believes we have an anti-aging wonder on our hands.
“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,” Prof. Yadav said.
In his latest study his team collaborated with over 50 other scientists from around the world. Their findings were eye opening.
Taurine increases lifespan
They began by measuring taurine in the blood of mice, monkeys, and people, finding that it decreased substantially with age, confirming findings of the 2012 study. In people, taurine levels in 60-year-olds were around a third of those found in children as young as five-years-old.
They followed this experiment by splitting nearly 250 mice aged 14 months – equivalent to age 45 in humans – into two groups. They fed one group a daily dose of taurine by mouth, while the other group acted as controls. Taurine increased the average lifespan of male mice by ten percent and female mice by 12 percent, equivalent to seven or eight human years. Life expectancy at 28 months increased by about 18 to 25 percent. Taurine also increased the lifespan of worms.
The next mice experiment investigated the effects of taurine in older mice. The researchers followed any health improvements of older age mice following consumption of taurine daily for a period of one year starting at age two (equivalent of sixty in humans). Compared to controls, these older mice were healthier in almost every parameter measured.
Increases healthspan of mice and monkeys
The team wrote in their paper, published in the journal Science in June, that “they found an improved functioning of bone, muscle, pancreas, brain, fat, gut, and immune system…”
What’s more, taurine suppressed age-associated weight gain in female mice (even in “menopausal” mice), increased energy expenditure, increased bone mass, improved muscle endurance and strength, reduced depression-like and anxious behaviors, improved memory, reduced insulin resistance, and promoted a younger-looking immune system, among other benefits.
Researchers saw similar health effects of taurine supplements in middle-aged rhesus monkeys who 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.
“Thus,” the researchers wrote, “taurine deficiency may be a driver of aging because its reversal increases healthspan in worms, rodents, and primates, and lifespan in worms and rodents.”
Best of all, the studies suggest that taurine can help get to the root of virtually every cause of aging.
Targets all hallmarks of aging
At a cellular level taurine appeared to affect all the established hallmarks of aging in a positive way, which includes:
- Stopping senescence: Taurine decreased the number of senescent cells (cells that should die but instead hang around and release harmful substances causing inflammaging).
- Blocking inflammaging: Taurine reduced chronic low-level inflammation that comes with aging and is linked to nearly every disease of aging from memory loss to joint pain.
- Slowing telomere shortening: Taurine increased survival of laboratory animals after telomerase deficiency. Telomerase is the enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres.
- Preventing stem cell exhaustion: Taurine increased the number of stem cells present in tissues so that tissues repair and heal after injury.
- Stopping mitochondrial dysfunction: Taurine improved the performance of mitochondria, which become dysfunctional with age.
- Slowing genomic instability: Taurine reduced DNA damage which accumulates throughout life and is a leading cause of cellular dysfunction and diseases like cancer.
- Creating epigenetic changes: Taurine resulted in positive changes to compounds that switch genes “on” and “off” that accumulate defects with aging.
- Stopping the loss of proteostasis: Taurine improves this process which brings order to the vast array of proteins that carry out almost all of the cellular tasks for a healthy body.
- Sensing nutrients: Taurine improved the cells’ ability to sense nutrients. This allows them to adjust their behavior to make the most of what nutrients are available to generate energy and growth.
The big question is whether any of these amazing benefits of taurine will apply to humans. Two further experiments gave researchers hope.
Clinical study: Taurine improved overall health
The researchers first looked at the relationship between taurine levels and around 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.
Secondly, they tested if taurine levels would respond to exercise by measuring levels before and after a variety of male athletes and sedentary individuals finished a strenuous cycling workout. They 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,” Professor Yadav said.
In addition to exercising regularly, there are other ways to boost your taurine levels.
Eat like the Japanese
Unlike other anti-aging drugs currently being tested in human trials, Professor Yadav believes taurine has some important advantages.
“Taurine is naturally produced in our bodies, it can be obtained naturally in the diet, it has no known toxic effects (although it’s rarely used in concentrations used in this study), and it can be boosted by exercise.
“Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-aging strategy.”
Support for this also comes from a Japanese study which suggested that taurine could account for the longevity of the Japanese. While meat and dairy products are reasonable dietary sources of taurine, the richest sources by far are seafood and seaweed, two major components of the Japanese diet. Seaweed and scallops contain the highest amounts.
How much taurine do you need?
The longevity benefits in the Columbia animal research came from the equivalent of humans eating three to six grams of taurine per day. For reference, scallops contain 820 mg per 100 grams while nori seaweed contains 1,300 mg per 100 grams. So, the Japanese may well reach the required amount each day with ease, and this may be one of the reasons they live healthier and longer lives than Americans do.
The Aging Defeated Team