Taurine – a nutrient found in foods with protein such as meat or fish – may slow down the ageing process, scientists have said.
A team of international researchers found that taurine supplements can slow down ageing in mice and monkeys – extending the healthy lifespans of middle-aged mice by up to 12 per cent.
The scientists said their findings, published in the journal Science, make the case for further studies with human trials.
Study leader Vijay Yadav, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “Human society is ageing. It is associated with changes in molecular composition within us.
“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.
“This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”
Taurine is an amino acid found in meat, fish and eggs, and plays an important role in supporting immune health, nervous system function and energy production.
Some energy drinks have taurine added to them, due to its hypothesised beneficial effect on mental and athletic performance.
Previous research has shown taurine deficiency to be associated with ageing but Dr Yadav said it was not clear whether it actively directs the ageing process or is simply a passenger going along for the ride.
For the study, the researchers looked at blood samples and measured the taurine concentrations at different ages in mice, monkeys and humans.
They tested about 250 female and male mice that were roughly 14 months old – about 45 years of age in people terms – giving half of them a taurine supplement and the other half a control solution.
The team found that consuming taurine supplements increased average lifespan by 12 per cent in female mice and 10 per cent in males.
This translates to three to four extra months for mice, equivalent to about seven or eight human years, the researchers said.
The team also found that a daily intake of 500 and 1000 milligrams of taurine supplement per kilogram of body weight was also associated with improvements in strength, co-ordination and cognitive function in the rodents.
“Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, we also found that they’re living healthier lives,” Dr Yadav said.
The team then tested the effects of taurine supplements in middle-aged monkeys and found that those taking it every day for six months also showed improvements in their immune systems, bone density and overall metabolic health.
The researchers then looked at data from a study involving 12,000 European adults aged 60 and over.
They found that people with higher taurine levels were healthier, with fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity levels and lower levels of inflammation.
“These are associations, which do not establish causation but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human ageing,” Dr Yadav said.
Lastly, the researchers measured taurine levels of male athletes and sedentary people who took part in a strenuous cycling workout, before and after the activity.
They said a “significant increase” in taurine levels was seen in both athletes – such as sprinters and endurance runners – and sedentary people.
“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,” Dr Yadav said.
Based on their findings, the researchers said anti-ageing human clinical trials, which are already investigating drugs such as metformin and rapamycin, should also include taurine.
“Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-ageing strategy,” Dr Yadav said.