The research, which was published in the journal Science, looked at taurine deficiency as a driver of ageing and concluded: “A reversal of this decline through taurine supplementation increases healthspan and lifespan in mice and worms, and healthspan in monkeys.”
It reported that supplements of taurine slowed the ageing process in monkeys, mice, and worms, and extended the healthy lifespan of mice in middle age by up to 12%.
Study leader Vijay Yadav, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”
However, the authors admitted: “To test whether taurine deficiency is a driver of ageing in humans as well, long-term, well-controlled taurine supplementation trials that measure healthspan and lifespan as outcomes are required.”
Taurine supplementation may slow key markers of ageing
Taurine, a semi-essential amino acid that supports immune health and nervous system function, occurs naturally in some foods, such as meat, seafood, dairy; it is famously used in energy drinks, such as Red Bull, while the body can also produce it by itself.
While taurine deficiency in adults is rare, its abundance decreases during ageing, and as newborns and infants cannot produce it as well as adults, they depend on getting intakes from breast milk or taurine-supplemented formula.
Studies have shown that taurine supplementation protects against pathologies associated with mitochondrial defects, including ageing, mitochondrial diseases, metabolic syndrome, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. It may slow key markers of ageing such as increased DNA damage, telomerase deficiency, impaired mitochondrial function, and cellular senescence.
Taurine supplementation has been shown to improve lifespan in mice and healthspan in monkeys.
Study ‘shows prevention of deterioration rather than reversal of ageing’
However, Ilaria Bellantuono, professor of musculoskeletal ageing at the University of Sheffield, said there was “some way to go” before it would be possible to say whether the results were relevant to humans, adding that it was a “very early” study.
“Firstly, we need to see whether it works as well in older organisms (mice or monkeys), when the signs of ageing are more prominent,” she said. “Secondly, we need to test taurine in a clinical trial to understand if it is effective and the side effects, whether it needs to be taken continuously, and from which age.
“This could be a long and expensive study, depending on the time that it takes to see an effect and how effective this drug is in preventing signs of ageing. It is important to highlight that this study shows prevention of deterioration rather than reversal of ageing.”
Implications for taurine supplementation in humans ‘limited’
Asked whether humans should be recommended to take taurine supplements, she said: “Definitely not, until it is properly tested in a clinical trial.”
She added: “For now, the implications are limited. If there is a demonstrable clinical impact it could be used to prevent multiple long-term chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, muscle weakness, diabetes and potentially neurodegenerative diseases. However, it needs to be carefully tested in all these conditions before being able to draw any conclusion.”
However, she conceded that the study was in line with previous research.
“I think it fits well with the existing evidence,” she said. “The mechanisms modulated by taurine are the main mechanisms driving ageing and we have seen several molecules interfering with similar mechanisms having the same effects.
“The major issue we face is how do we translate to benefit people? Who should take it, for how long, is it safe, and how [do we] make it cost-effective?”