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Taurine supplements extend lifespan and health in old age in mammals

We lose levels of the amino acid taurine as we age, with experiments in mice and monkeys suggesting that supplements could reverse this loss to keep us healthy and potentially even extend our lifespan.

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Found in many animals, including humans, taurine is naturally synthesised in the pancreas, but can also be obtained by eating animal products. Previous studies have found that taurine deficiencies in early life impair the skeletal muscle and central nervous system in mice, as well as causing retinal degeneration in mice and cats, but little is known about the amino acid’s potential role in ageing.

To learn more, Vijay Yadav at Columbia University in New York and his colleagues measured taurine concentrations in the blood of mice, monkeys and humans, finding that its levels declined as they all aged. Among the human participants, those aged around 65 had taurine levels that were more than 80 per cent lower than those of the study’s infant participants. In a separate analysis of nearly 12,000 60-year-olds, higher taurine levels correlated with various markers of better health, including a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and reduced inflammation.

Next, the researchers wanted to see if reversing taurine’s decline could improve the animals’ health as they aged and potentially extend their lifespan. They therefore gave daily taurine supplements to 14-month-old mice, the equivalent age of a person between 45 and 50 years old.

On average, these mice lived up to 12 per cent longer than those that weren’t given taurine. They also had lower hallmarks of ageing, such as reduced DNA damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. “They were leaner, had improved bone density and muscle strength and had a younger-looking immune system, among other benefits,” says Yadav.

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In the monkeys, the researchers didn’t assess the effect of the supplements on their lifespan, but did link them to a healthier liver, body mass, immune system and bone density. “In other words, supplements made monkeys healthier for longer,” says Yadav.

The researchers hope to repeat their experiment in people, but in the meantime, they don’t recommend that people take taurine supplements in the hope of living longer. “We need to wait for a large-scale, randomised-controlled taurine intervention before taurine supplementation can be safely recommended for people,” says Yadav.

“Although more clinical studies are still needed, this study provides relevant scientific support that taurine supplementation may have a positive impact on promoting healthy longevity in humans,” says Cláudia Cavadas at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. “However, it is important to never forget that a healthy lifestyle is essential for achieving a healthy lifespan.”

Journal reference:

Science DOI: 10.1126/science.abn9257

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