Higher levels of taurine, a common amino acid found in energy drinks and protein-rich foods like shellfish and dark chicken meat, slowed down the aging process in animals according to a study published this week in Science.
How taurine impacts aging
The researchers found levels of taurine decrease with age in animals and in humans, so they examined how animals would respond to taurine supplementation as they age. The supplementation was associated with increased health and lifespan in mice and worms, and an increased healthspan in monkeys. The median lifespan of mice fed daily taurine supplements increased by between 10% to 12% compared to the control group, per the study.
While lifespan is one marker of aging, healthspan also determines the number of years lived free of disease burden.
“A meaningful anti-aging therapy should not only improve life span but also health span, the period of healthy living,” the researchers say.
To examine this, researchers measured the biological mechanisms behind aging—such as memory, organ strength, and inflammation—to determine how taurine supplementation affects overall health. The taurine-fed mice had improved brain, immune, and organ strength, among other metrics—influencing healthspan simultaneously, the researchers concluded.
“This identifies taurine deficiency as a driver of aging in these species,” the researchers write.
Should you increase your taurine intake?
Whether or not taurine supplementation affects humans’ health and lifespan is still unknown—including how much is safe to take.
This is especially important as the dose administered to mice was higher than the amount in typical supplements taken by people. The researchers, therefore, do not suggest any supplementation recommendations or changes to dietary patterns given the need for more rigorous research.
“Unfortunately these results are too preliminary to suggest that people should go out and start taking taurine supplements, and they especially shouldn’t start chugging energy drinks as a result,” says Andrew Steele, a biologist and author of Ageless: The new science of getting older without getting old. “Converting the dose used in mice to people suggests you’d need to drink about five a day to get a clinically useful amount of taurine, which could cause all kinds of side-effects due to other ingredients in these beverages.”
Researchers are now pushing for “long-term, well-controlled taurine supplementation trials that measure health span and life span as outcomes are required.”
Still, they highlight the potential for taurine to be a part of the aging conversation. Lower levels of taurine in people were associated with obesity and diabetes, and exercise correlated with higher levels of the micronutrient. It begs the question of how other lifestyle factors play into how this potentially age-friendly nutrient affects the length and quality of our later years.