Taurine, an amino acid known to some as an ingredient in energy drinks, extended the lives of healthy mice by about 10 percent in a study published in Science magazine. Can taurine become a new "wonder drug" on the longevity scene, or are these results being prematurely touted?
What is taurine?
Taurine belongs to the group of amino acids. Our body uses 20 different amino acids to build proteins. They are the building blocks from which we build enzymes, muscle proteins and many other substances. Nine of the 20 amino acids are called essential. This means we must get them from food because our bodies cannot produce them on their own. These essential amino acids include methionine, for example.
Taurine is not one of the 20 amino acids that we need as "building blocks" for our proteins - yet we find the molecule in various parts of our body. It is found in large quantities in our retina, the retina. In addition, the amino acid is found in the heart, brain and muscles.
Where does the molecule occur?
Most people will be familiar with taurine as an ingredient in energy drinks due to its stimulating or energy-increasing effect. In addition, taurine is found in many animal products, from meat to fish, cheese and eggs. In plant foods, on the other hand, only small amounts are found.
Although taurine is often advertised as an "energy booster" in many energy drinks, taurine is not a direct stimulant like caffeine, for example.
Rather, it affects our physiology via the modulation of neurotransmitters, such as gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) or via the stabilization of cell membranes of the heart. In interaction with caffeine and the sugar in energy drinks, (overly) strong, stimulating states can thus be achieved.
If we do not take in taurine with food, then our body has the possibility to produce taurine itself. This happens mainly in the liver and is a multi-step process, at the beginning of which is the essential amino acid methionine. Therefore, if we do not have enough methionine, we cannot produce taurine. We excrete excess taurine through the kidneys and urine.
Taurine in research - what effect does the amino acid have in our body?
This particular amino acid has been researched for some time. Until now, it was known that our taurine level in the blood decreases with age. With sport we can increase our blood level. Together with the many positive studies on sport, this suggests that the molecule plays some role in this.
It has also been found that there is an inversely proportional relationship between taurine levels and diabetes incidence, inflammation, liver function and BMI. These are purely observations, but it can be guessed that sufficiently high levels are beneficial for a healthy life.
Other effects of taurine in our body are:
- Improved sports performance: In a meta-analysis, researchers found that taurine supplementation could improve sports performance. The reduction of oxidative stress was probably responsible for this effect.
- Mental focus: Via its modulating effect on neurotransmitters, the molecule is thought to be able to increase mental focus.
- Water balance: Taurine has an osmolytic effect, which means it binds water. It can therefore contribute to improved cell hydration. This is what you need, among other things, during sports to achieve peak performance.
Cats cannot produce taurine themselves. They are dependent on a suitably enriched diet. For this reason, cat food always contains a certain amount of taurine. Mice, on the other hand, have a greater capacity to produce taurine themselves compared to humans. They are therefore not as dependent on the amino acid from food.
Taurine and its life-prolonging effect in animals
The study from the renowned journal Science, examined two populations of mice. One group received taurine mixed into their food, while the other group received normal food. There was a significant difference in the lifespan of the mice between the groups.
Even more exciting was that the mice were also significantly healthier. They had stronger bones, muscles and immune systems. They were thinner, had better liver and pancreas function and more energy than the comparison group. They also performed better in cognitive tests.
In addition to the study in mice, the life-prolonging effect of taurine has also been demonstrated in monkeys. Based on their results, the researchers assume that the molecule has a positive effect on several of the Hallmarks of Aging. For example, taurine reduced cellular senescence, protected against excessive telomere degradation and reduced inflammatory processes.
If you want to read more about the various Hallmarks of Aging, check out here in our magazine. We have taken a closer look at the various Hallmarks of Aging in several articles.
Another highly interesting molecule that is currently being intensively researched for its life-prolonging effects is Alpha-ketoglutarate.
Studies on humans already exist here. In one of these studies, Demidenko et al. tested the daily intake of alpha-ketoglutarate and measured the molecular rejuvenation of the test subjects with the aid of DNA methylation testing. Strikingly, all subjects became measurably younger. On average, the subjects were able to rejuvenate their molecular age by 7 years!
Want to know more about alpha-ketoglutarate? Then have a look at our article in the magazine.
Supplementation in humans - useful or pointless?
Currently, studies and data on the possible effects of taurine supplementation in humans are still lacking. It is relatively safe to say that the molecule is a useful supplement for physically active individuals who want to enhance their athletic performance. However, one should be careful about the interactions with caffeine and other stimulants.
Regarding possible effects on longevity, further studies are inevitably needed. One of the questions is why our taurine levels become lower with age and how we can counteract this. Is supplementation enough? Is it perhaps due to deteriorating kidney function? Data from kidney disease patients at least point in that direction.
In addition, we cannot transfer the results from mice and monkeys one hundred percent to us humans. Simply because of our different capacity in the synthesis of taurine, there is still a lot of research to be done.
Taurine is therefore (for the time being) not a "miracle cure" for a long life. It can have some health-promoting effects. What these are and how supplementation affects people remains to be clarified.
The images were purchased under licence from Canva.