Taurine – a nutrient found in foods with protein such as meat or fish – may slow down the ageing process, scientists have said.
A team of international researchers found that taurine supplements slow ageing in mice and monkeys – extending life and health in middle-aged mice by up to 12%.
The scientists said their findings, published in the journal Science, make the case for further studies with human trials.
Study leader Vijay Yadav, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “Human society is ageing.
“It is associated with changes in molecular composition within us.”
He added: “For the last 25 years, scientists have been trying to find factors that not only let us live longer, but also increase healthspan, the time we remain healthy in our old age.
“This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”
Taurine is an amino acid found in meat, fish and eggs, and plays an important role in supporting immune health, nervous system function and energy production.
Some energy drinks have taurine added to them, due to its hypothesised effect on mental and athletic performance.
Previous research has shown taurine deficiency to be associated with ageing but Prof Yadav said it was not clear whether it actively directs the ageing process or is just a passenger going along for the ride.
For the study, the researchers looked at blood samples and measured the taurine concentrations at different ages in mice, monkeys, and humans.
They tested nearly 250 female and male mice around 14 months old, about 45 years of age in people terms, giving half of them a taurine supplement and the other half a control solution.
The team found that consuming taurine supplements increased average lifespan by 12% in female mice and 10% in males.
This translates to three to four extra months for mice, equivalent to about seven or eight human years, the researchers said.
The team also found that daily intake of 500 and 1000 milligrams of taurine supplement per kilogram of body weight was also associated with improvements in strength, coordination, and cognitive functions in the rodents.
Prof Yadav said: “Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, we also found that they’re living healthier lives.”
The team then tested the effects of taurine supplements in middle-aged monkeys and found that those taking it every day for six months also showed improvements in their immune systems, bone density and overall metabolic health.
The researchers then looked at data from a study involving 12,000 European adults aged 60 and over.
They found that people with higher taurine levels were healthier, with fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity levels, and lower levels of inflammation.
Prof Yadav said: “These are associations, which do not establish causation but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human ageing.”
Lastly, the researchers measured taurine levels of male athletes and sedentary people who took part in a strenuous cycling workout, before and after the activity.
They said a “significant increase” in taurine levels was seen in both athletes – such as sprinters and endurance runners – and sedentary people.
Prof Yadav said: “No matter the individual, all had increased taurine levels after exercise, which suggests that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from an increase in taurine.”
Based on their findings, the researchers said anti-ageing human clinical trials, which are already investigating drugs such as metformin and rapamycin, should also include taurine.
Prof Yadav said: “Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-ageing strategy.”