Taurine: Can this amino acid prolong our life?

“Taurine could be an elixir of life within us, helping us live longer, healthier lives,” says Vijay Yadav, leader of a study published in the journal Science. However, that is by no means certain. Because in the study, the international research team around the doctor from the Columbia University in New York failed to identify a clear mechanism behind the beneficial effects of this amino acid.

In the study, the researchers first found that mice, monkeys and also people with increasing age have less taurine in their blood. In blood samples from people over the age of 60, they found only a fifth of the concentration measured in children and adolescents. Yadav and his team then used animal experiments to investigate whether taurine – an amino acid naturally occurring in animal foods and formed in the human body – influences the aging process.

They fed 246 mice from the age of 14 months until they died either with taurine at a daily dose of 1000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight or with a control solution. The 120 mice with taurine in their food lived longer on average: Female mice had a 12 percent and male mice a 10 percent longer life expectancy than the animals in the control group. That’s three to four more months, which would correspond to about seven or eight human years. Taurine also increased the life expectancy of nematodes by 10 to 23 percent, but not in the simple organism yeast.

“The results from the animal experiments are impressive”

In further experiments with mice and rhesus monkeys, the researchers found that aging animals that were fed taurine were healthier than their untreated peers. Female mice given taurine for a year gained less weight as a function of age, burned more calories, had stronger bones and muscles, and behaved less depressed and anxious. They also had less insulin resistance and their immune systems were fitter. Yadav and his team observed similar health effects in middle-aged rhesus monkeys that were given taurine daily for six months.

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“The results from the animal experiments are impressive,” says co-author Henning Wackerhage, Professor of Sports Biology at the Technical University of Munich. “But we don’t know whether they can be transmitted to humans.”

The research team sees indications of a health-promoting potential of taurine in humans in the results of its observations on 12,000 European adults: those over 60 years of age with higher taurine levels had less frequent type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure and had lower inflammation scores than those with lower scores.

The taurine level is therefore related to health parameters. Whether the amino acid is the cause of better health remains open due to the study design. “These are associations that do not establish causality,” says Yadav. “But the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging.”

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At the same time, the researchers showed that people produce more taurine as a result of strenuous bicycle training. “This finding coincides with the observation that sport has a positive effect on health in old age,” says Wackerhage.

Whether an additional intake of taurine actually promotes health and prolongs life can only be clarified by researchers through randomized clinical studies on humans. Such investigations have so far been lacking. They are also necessary to study side effects or interactions.

Taurine is found in energy drinks

So far, taurine, which is widely used as an additive in baby food and energy drinks, has been considered harmless to health. However, the doses used in the study would be very high for humans and their safety has not been established.

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The European Food Safety Authority considers the intake of 6000 milligrams – equivalent to 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight – of taurine per day from food and other sources to be safe. With a normal diet, humans take in between 10 and 400 milligrams per day.

In a Science commentary, Joseph McGaunn and Joseph Baur write of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, it still has to be shown whether taurine is actually the cause of the age-retarding processes. In addition, one must examine the risks of taking taurine by humans. “Taurine supplementation with the aim of improving human health and longevity should be approached with caution,” they caution.

Sebastian Grönke also emphasizes this aspect Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne. “Based on the fact that taurine content decreases with age and that higher taurine levels are associated with a lower risk of certain age-related diseases, I think it’s quite realistic that taurine intake can also extend lifespan in humans,” he says. “However, further clinical studies are necessary to clarify the exact dosage and tolerability in long-term therapy with the high amounts of taurine used here.”

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