In a breakthrough study led by Columbia researchers and involving a global team of aging experts, a discovery reveals that the nutrient taurine, which is naturally produced within our bodies and also found in various foods, has a significant role in driving the aging process in animals.
The researchers also found that supplements of taurine could potentially slow down this process. The evidence suggests a notable impact on the healthy lifespans of middle-aged mice, worms, and monkeys, with an increase of up to 12% observed.
Dr. Vijay Yadav, who led the study, is an assistant professor of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. He noted that the science community has been on a 25-year quest to identify factors that don’t merely increase lifespan, but also enhance healthspan – the period of time that an individual maintains good health in old age. “This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives,” said Dr. Yadav.
Many anti-aging molecules are within us
The last two decades have seen a surge in efforts to identify interventions that could enhance health in old age. This has been fueled by the increase in human longevity and the growing understanding that the aging process can be manipulated.
Numerous studies have connected various blood-carried molecules with aging, but it’s unclear whether these molecules actively control the aging process or are just passengers going along for the ride.
Taurine caught Dr. Yadav’s attention during earlier osteoporosis research that highlighted the nutrient’s role in bone-building. At the same time, other researchers started associating taurine levels with various aspects of health such as immune function, obesity, and nervous system functions. These findings made the team wonder whether taurine levels in the bloodstream might influence overall health and lifespan.
Taurine declines naturally with age
The researchers initially investigated taurine levels in the bloodstream of mice, monkeys, and humans, discovering a substantial decrease with age. In humans, taurine levels in individuals at the age of 60 were only around a third of those found in 5-year-olds. This discovery prompted the question, is a deficiency of taurine a driver of aging?
The researchers then began a large experiment with nearly 250 mice, which were about 14 months old (equivalent to approximately 45 human years). Every day, half of the mice received taurine supplements. After concluding the experiment, the researchers found that taurine extended average lifespan by 12% in female mice and 10% in males. For the mice, this translated to an additional three to four months, which would equate to seven or eight human years.
Taurine supplement experiments improved health in old age
To delve deeper into how taurine affects health, additional researchers were brought in to investigate the nutrient’s impact on health and lifespan across various species. The results were astonishing; mice that were given taurine for a year were found to be healthier in nearly all aspects compared to their untreated counterparts at the age of two (or 60 in human years).
The health benefits of taurine supplementation ranged from suppressing age-associated weight gain and increasing energy expenditure, to improving muscle strength and endurance, reducing insulin resistance, and promoting a more youthful immune system.
The study also showed that taurine improves many cellular functions that typically deteriorate with age. For instance, taurine reduced the number of “zombie cells,” which are old cells that linger instead of dying and subsequently release harmful substances. Taurine also improved the performance of mitochondria and reduced DNA damage.
The promising results extended to middle-aged rhesus monkeys, which showed improved health indicators after receiving daily taurine supplements for six months. The monkeys experienced reduced weight gain, lower fasting blood glucose, fewer liver damage markers, and improved immune system health, among other benefits.
Dr Yadav and his team are careful to note, however, that while these results are promising, they do not yet know if taurine supplements will improve health or increase longevity in humans.
Nevertheless, the team has conducted two human-based experiments which suggest taurine may have potential. The first analyzed the relationship between taurine levels and approximately 50 health parameters in over 12,000 European adults aged 60 and above.
Overall, those with higher taurine levels were generally healthier, with fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity levels, less hypertension, and reduced inflammation levels. “These are associations, which do not establish causation. But the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging,” explained Dr. Yadav.
In a second experiment, the researchers studied whether taurine levels would respond to an intervention known to improve health: exercise. After a strenuous cycling workout, taurine levels were measured in a variety of male athletes and sedentary individuals, both before and after exercise.
The findings were consistent across all groups – taurine levels significantly increased post-exercise. “This suggests that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from an increase in taurine,” said Dr. Yadav.
Randomized clinical trials are next
However, Dr. Yadav is clear that a randomized clinical trial in humans is the only way to definitively determine if taurine has genuine health benefits. Trials are currently underway for obesity, but none of them are designed to measure a wide range of health parameters. Other potential anti-aging drugs, including metformin, rapamycin, and NAD analogs, are being considered for testing in clinical trials.
“I think taurine should also be considered,” said Dr. Yadav. “It has some advantages: Taurine is naturally produced in our bodies, it can be obtained naturally in the diet, it has no known toxic effects, and its levels can be boosted by exercise.”
Ultimately, Dr. Yadav concludes that restoring taurine to youthful levels in old age might be a promising anti-aging strategy, given that taurine levels decrease with age. His team’s research, published in the journal Science, could potentially revolutionize our understanding of the aging process and how we can manipulate it for a healthier, longer life.
More about anti-aging research
Anti-aging research is a rapidly growing field dedicated to understanding the molecular and physiological mechanisms that contribute to aging. The goal is to develop interventions that can delay, stop, or even reverse the aging process, thereby extending both lifespan (how long we live) and healthspan (how long we live in good health). Here are some promising molecules that have been identified in this field:
As discussed in the study led by Dr. Vijay Yadav, taurine, a naturally produced nutrient, could potentially have a significant role in slowing down the aging process.
Originally a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, metformin has shown promising results in extending lifespan and healthspan in multiple animal models. It’s believed to work by increasing insulin sensitivity, decreasing oxidative stress, and possibly by modifying the microbiome. The “Metformin in Longevity Study” (MILES) is one such trial examining the effects of metformin on aging in humans.
This is a compound originally discovered in soil bacteria and now used as an immunosuppressant in organ transplantation. In mice, rapamycin has been shown to extend lifespan, possibly by inhibiting a cellular pathway involved in cell growth and proliferation called mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). Clinical trials are underway to test the effects of rapamycin and related compounds on aging in humans.
NAD+ (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is a critical coenzyme found in every cell in your body and plays a significant role in energy metabolism. Aging, in part, has been considered a result of decreasing NAD+ levels over time. To combat this, precursors such as Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) and Nicotinamide Mononucleotide (NMN) are being investigated for their potential to replenish NAD+ levels and possibly slow down the aging process.
Senescent cells, often referred to as “zombie cells,” stop dividing but don’t die. They accumulate with age and secrete inflammatory molecules that can harm nearby cells. Senolytics are a class of drugs designed to target and eliminate these cells, potentially reducing inflammation and other negative effects of aging. Initial trials in mice have shown promising results.
This naturally occurring compound, found in foods like grapes and berries, has been shown to have several health benefits, including anti-aging effects. Resveratrol is thought to activate certain pathways in the body that help combat aging, although results from human studies have been mixed.
Caloric Restriction Mimetics (CRMs)
Dietary restriction without malnutrition (or caloric restriction) is the most robust intervention known to increase lifespan in a variety of organisms. CRMs are compounds that can mimic the biochemical effects of a low-calorie diet, thereby promoting a longer, healthier life. Examples include the diabetes drug metformin, rapamycin, and resveratrol.
It’s important to note that while these substances show promise, most are still in the early stages of research and have not been conclusively proven to slow human aging. The best-proven methods to promote a longer, healthier life remain a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and regular medical care.