According to a recent study, fitness enthusiasts who take a dietary supplement could live longer and be healthier. Researchers discovered that taurine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in many foods and energy drinks, can delay death.
The new study published in Science on Thursday shows that the animals' strength, memory, and metabolism were improved. The inflammation and DNA damage was kept in check. Middle-aged mice who regularly consumed taurine supplements were significantly healthier than those who did not.
The study was not conducted by Dr. Nir Bzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
But Dr. Barzilai, and other researchers on longevity, cautioned that taurine is not a magical elixir to extend life. They warned that people should use the supplement cautiously, especially when considering the high doses similar to those given to mice and monkeys.
They said that taurine, a nutrient obtained from shellfish and poultry and produced by the human body, has a proven track record of being safe. When consumed in high amounts, it can cause kidney strain, digestive problems and even harmful interactions with medication.
The effectiveness of this drug in promoting healthy ageing in humans is still to be determined. Other anti-aging drugs, which initially showed promise in monkeys and mice, haven't always worked in human trials.
In a small Brazilian clinical trial, four months of low dose taurine supplementation showed positive antioxidant effects on older women. There were no toxicities reported. Researchers said that larger studies and longer ones are needed to determine the effectiveness of different doses of taurine.
In most human studies, taurine supplements are tested at low doses. Typically around 1.5 grams a day. The dose given to the mice and monkeys was equivalent to three to six grams per day in humans. This level is considered safe by European regulators but is still at the high end.
The study's lead researcher, Vijay Yadav of Columbia University Irving Medical Center said, "The bottom line is, clinical trials are needed."
The amino acid taurine was first isolated by German scientists from the bile from an ox in 1820.
Dr. Yadav did not know about taurine until a decade earlier, when he discovered that it helped to promote bone growth in young mice born from mothers who were vitamin deficient.
Human studies have already shown that low taurine levels are associated with poor health in terms of heart function, cognitive function and muscle performance. Taurine is also believed to be responsible for the extraordinarily long life span of Okinawans.
It was unclear whether taurine deficiency is a cause of aging or merely a side effect of the aging processes.
Dr. Yadav and colleagues from the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, measured taurine levels first in blood samples of people. They found that they declined steadily with age. Taurine levels in 60-year olds were one-third that of small children.
The team then administered high-dose taurine to mice and monkeys of middle age and compared the health outcomes with animals who did not receive the amino acid boost. The monkeys showed improvements in immune function, bone density and sugar metabolism after six months of treatment.
The mice lost weight, developed stronger muscles, showed less anxiety, and displayed multiple improvements at a cellular scale, including a decrease in the number so-called "zombie cells", old cells that cease to divide but continue wreaking havoc on nearby tissues. Taurine increased the life expectancy of mice by 10 and 12 percent respectively. The supplement also had an impact on the longevity of worms.
Two data sets were analyzed by the researchers to support their findings that taurine has anti-aging properties. The first study, which involved nearly 12,000 individuals in their middle age living in Eastern England, found a link between low taurine and diseases like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. One study, which involved athletes from Germany found that high intensity exercise can naturally increase taurine levels, which could explain some of the antiaging benefits of physical activities.
It's not yet known what taurine does in the body. Taurine may play a role in the mitochondrial health, which is the energy-producing factory inside every cell. Christy Carter, health scientist administrator at National Institute on Aging, said that more research is required. She said, 'We don't know how it works'.
Taurine is a popular supplement among biohackers, longevity seekers and other health-conscious individuals.
Nick Engerer is the founder of The Longevity Blog in Byron Bay. This makes taurine the leading contender for something that you could try at home to improve your longevity.
Most clinicians and longevity researchers advise against adding taurine to protein drinks or energy drinks until there are more controlled human studies. I'm always telling people to wait until the clinical trials are completed, said Dr. James Kirkland. He is a Mayo Clinic geriatrician who leads anti-aging research with other compounds.
David Sinclair is a Harvard Medical School researcher who studies longevity. He's more open to self experimentation without a protocol. In his 2019 book and podcast, he discusses his anti-aging supplement cocktail.
Dr. Sinclair admitted that he has experimented with taurine before. According to the new study, Dr. Sinclair said that he will likely add high-doses of taurine into his regimen – with regular blood tests for side effects. He said that he was concerned about people taking taurine without monitoring their bodies.
Dr. Yadav declined to confirm whether he took taurine supplements. He said, 'I do not want to influence people'.