Scientists find that taurine - found in meat, fish and in certain energy drinks - may extend life and health
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Researchers at Columbia University in New York and at the Technical University in Munich have found that taurine - a nutrient found in meat, fish and sold as a supplement and in energy drinks - extends life and boosts health in a range of animal species, according to an article published in the journal Science.
Experiments on middle-aged animals showed boosting taurine to youthful levels extended life by over 10% and improved physical and brain health.
Levels of taurine, the research shows, decline with age in different species, including people.
The researchers say taurine may be an "elixir of life" - but topping up levels in people has not been tested.
Taurine can be bought in pill form and is also packed into some popular energy drinks, but experts do not recommended people buying such in an attempt to secure longevity as the research was based on animal testing and it is still unclear if higher taurine consumption would have the same impact on human beings until further experiments are conducted.
The current animal research is, however, the latest development in the hunt for ways of slowing ageing.
This study analysed molecules in the blood of different species - exploring levels of different molecules in the young and old.
"One of the most dramatically downgraded [molecules] was taurine," said researcher Dr Vijay Yadav [in reference to the blood of older animal species].
Taurine is virtually non-existent in plants and therefore it is thought that the nutrient either comes from animal protein in our diet or is naturally manufactured by the body, with tests showing levels are 80% higher in the blood of older people than in the young.
Over the past decade researchers at Columbia University and elsewhere have been trying to explore taurine’s role in the ageing process.
Scientists gave a daily dose to 14-month-old mice, the equivalent of about age 45 for humans.
Results showed male mice subsequently lived 10% longer, females 12% longer and both genders appeared to be in better health, according to findings that were published in the academic journal Science.
Dr Yadav, who was central to the research said: “Whatever we checked, taurine-supplemented mice were healthier and appeared younger. They were leaner, had an increased energy expenditure, improved bone density, memory function and a younger-looking immune system.”
Researchers also gave 15-year-old rhesus monkeys a six-month course of taurine - too short to notice a difference in life expectancy but improvements in body weight, bone, blood-sugar levels and the immune system were all detected.
Professor Henning Wackerhage from the Technical University of Munich, who was also involved in the groundbreaking research, said: "Taurine somehow hits the engine room of ageing."
But it will take proper clinical trials - where some people are given the nutrient and others a placebo pill - to see if any benefit can be detected in people as well as in animals.
Differences in human biology may stop taurine from working or there may be some evolutionary reason why levels are meant to naturally fall with age.
Current evidence - including energy drinks being on the market for decades - suggest that the consumption of taurine is safe, although such drinks are also often excessively high in sugar so that highly frequent consumption is not healthy.
Dr Yadav said: "Let us wait for the clinical trials to be completed before recommending to the wider population that they go to the shelf in a grocery store and buy taurine."
Professor Wackerhage said rather than rushing for supplements, “if you want to live a long, healthy and happy life, then you need a healthy diet - that's one of the most important things - and of course, you should exercise," he said.
The scientific report suggests taurine plays a role in reducing what is called ‘cellular senescence’ – a process which is a hallmark of ageing wherein cells in the body stop dividing.
Taurine also appeared to keep mitochondria - what might be described as one of the ‘power stations in the body's cells’ - functioning properly.