Taurine could be an inexpensive “elixir of life” by boosting lifespan by up to 10 percent, according to new results in animal models. The amino acid is typically found in meat and fish and declines with age, but keeping it topped up in our bodies cold have a life-extending impact if the results translate to humans.
It’s very in vogue to create anti-aging drugs and treatments, with options ranging from genetic therapies to the blood of the youth (that one is super weird and only for rich Silicon Valley people). Early experiments have seen varying levels of success at extending the lifespan of aging animal models, but whether they actually work in humans is yet to be seen.
Towards the pursuit of a longer life, scientists looked towards the semi-essential nutrient taurine. Taurine is an amino acid (a building block of proteins) that is synthesized naturally in the human body but often needs to come from our diet too, particularly when we’re very young or much older. To be quite honest, scientists don’t really know what it does – all they know is that it’s important.
Previous research suggests that taurine deficiency drives aging, and in animals that produce very little taurine naturally, a lack of it promotes a number of health defects. When humans have been given taurine supplements in small trials, it appeared to help metabolic and inflammatory diseases, suggesting it could have health benefits.
The most recent piece of research took a set of 14-month-old mice (equivalent to age 45 in humans) and gave them a dose of taurine every day, before comparing their lifespan to a control group of mice. On average, the taurine mice had an increased lifespan of between 10-12 percent, results that were confirmed in nematode worms too. While these models are certainly not human, they are standard model organisms and allow scientists to test drugs at a far accelerated rate.
The mice also demonstrated some memory and health benefits when they took taurine, suggesting it could improve quality of life as well as lifespan.
"Whatever we checked, taurine-supplemented mice were healthier and appeared younger," said Dr Vijay Yadav, co-author of the paper, in a statement reported by the BBC.
"They were leaner, had an increased energy expenditure, increased bone density, improved memory and a younger-looking immune system."
When the team looked at 12,000 humans, they found that people with more taurine typically had better overall health, though this is only observational and no causation has been found just yet.
Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, this is one amino acid that essentially only comes from meat. Luckily, it’s also really easy to get as a supplement, but there’s not enough data to run about and buy up bundles of taurine. Clinical trials need to be run and, ideally, scientists need to actually understand how taurine helps, if at all.
Still, it’s probably better than transfusing the blood of younger people into your veins. Just a thought.
The study is published in the journal Science.