Scientists are saying that a certain ingredient found in — checks notes — Monster Energy drinks could have unexpected health benefits. But in the same breath, they’re also begging you to avoid chugging energy drinks or even putting that ingredient, taurine, in your protein smoothie just yet.
Taurine, as The New York Times notes, is an amino acid that’s produced naturally by the human body, but can also be obtained by eating certain foods like turkey, beef, and particularly shellfish. It’s been linked to the human and animal aging processes, and in a new study published Thursday in Science, researchers found that when tested in mice, monkeys, and worms, a high daily dose of taurine appeared to slow down the aging process, bolstering the critters’ memories, strength, and metabolisms while fending off DNA damage and inflammation.
And yes, this maybe-miracle anti-ager is found in the sugary depths of wildly unhealthy energy drinks, the radioactive-looking Monster Energy included.
“Aging is associated with changes in circulating levels of various molecules, some of which remain undefined,” reads the study. “We find that concentrations of circulating taurine decline with aging in mice, monkeys, and humans.”
“A reversal of this decline through taurine supplementation,” it continues, “increased the health span (the period of healthy living) and life span in mice and health span in monkeys.”
The study itself was relatively simple. The scientists first measure the levels of taurine found in the blood of 60-year-old humans, which was roughly one-third of the level seen in small children. The researchers then began to administer high-dose taurine supplements to middle-aged rhesus monkeys, worms, and mice, comparing these animals to middle-aged control groups that didn’t receive the nutrient.
After just six months, the rhesus monkeys who received taurine were already showing improvements in metabolic function, bone density, and their immune system. The mice were even more successful, showing signs of lessened anxiety, better muscle strength, and cellular benefits including a diminished number of zombie cells, in addition to the same benefits seen in their primate counterparts. And in positive invertebrate news, the supplemented worms saw similar benefits.
These are pretty remarkable findings, and have promise in the way of future human study. But while taurine is found in the human body, and according to the NYT has been linked to anti-aging and anti-inflammation in human trials, those trials have mostly involved comparatively low doses of the drug. Also per the NYT’s report, high doses of the supplement can cause digestive problems and kidney strain in some individuals, and could have “potentially harmful interactions with medications.”
Plus, scientists say, they still don’t really know what taurine is exactly doing in the body to stave off aging.
“We are not sure how it’s working,” Christy Carter, a health scientist administrator at the National Institute on Aging, told the NYT.
With all of this in mind, scientists are urging any overly curious biohackers from holding off on consuming the dosage levels given to the animals in the study. Which, while technically deemed legal in the EU, at about 6 grams was very high by human standards.
“The bottom line is that clinical trials need to be done,” Vijay Yadav, a longevity researcher at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the leader of the study, told the NYT.
“I’m constantly telling people: hold fire until we do the clinical trials,” added James Kirkland, a geriatrician and leading anti-aging researcher at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved with the study.
Some of these said biohackers, however, are already taking the monkey and worm study in stride. Supplement Bros will Supplement Bro.
“This paper is very thorough and convincing,” Nick Engerer, the biohacking founder of the Longevity Blog, told the NYT. “This makes taurine a lead contender for something you might try at home for your own longevity.”
And of course, another major disclaimer: regardless of how good one specific ingredient found in these drinks might ultimately prove to be for human health, this research absolutely does not mean that energy drinks are good for you. They aren’t. To say that would be like saying adding one piece of spinach to a Big Mac and fries makes the whole meal healthy. Sure, that spinach is technically good, but it doesn’t negate how bad pretty much everything else is.
Still, hey, Monster Energy cans do have a certain “could survive a nuclear holocaust” vibe to them — call it their je ne sais quoi — so maybe they’re really the forbidden fountain of youth, after all. But in less of a health-forward, biohacking way, and more like a cursed-to-roam-the-post-apocalyptic-Earth-with-the-roaches kind of way.