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New animal and human research finds that taurine levels decline with age.
The study also found that mice and monkeys encounter healthier markers after taking taurine for a set amount of time.
Much research on taurine is in animals, not humans.
Many people have a goal to lead a long and healthy life. But the drivers of aging are complex, and researchers are still learning what drives it. Now, a new study suggests that the nutrient taurine may be a factor.
The study, which was published in the journal Science and conducted by dozens of senior researchers around the world, it involved several animal and human studies.
The researchers first looked at the levels of taurine in the blood of mice, monkeys and people and found that levels decline with age. In humans, for example, taurine levels in 60-year-olds were about one-third those of 5-year-olds.
The researchers then took 250 14-month-old mice (who are about 45 in people years old) and fed them a bolus of taurine or control solution every day. The researchers found that female mice given taurine had 12% longer lifespans, and male mice had 10% longer lifespans. (This translated to an extra three to four months in mice and about seven to eight years in humans.)
Other experiments in mice found that, by the age of two, or about 60 human years, the animals that took taurine for a year were healthier in nearly every way than those that didn’t take the supplement.
There were similar findings in middle-aged monkeys given taurine supplements every day for six months. The nutrient prevented weight gain, reduced fasting blood sugar and markers of liver injury, increased bone density in their spine and legs, and improved the health of their immune systems.
It is important to note that the research has largely been conducted on animals and not humans. These studies suggest that taurine abundance is a regulator of health in later life, and supplementing it may have beneficial effects as well, says study co-author Vijay Yadav, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University . Our next goal is to perform a controlled trial in humans.
This raises many questions about taurine and its uses. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in foods with protein, such as meat or fish, says Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Revolutionaries.
Your body uses taurine for actions in cells, including energy production, according to the Mayo Clinic. Taurine also helps your body process bile acids and balance the fluids, salts and minerals in your body.
Unlike many other amino acids, taurine is not used in the construction of proteins, says Scott Keatley, RD, co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. It is considered a semi-essential micronutrient because the body can produce a certain amount of taurine, but not always enough. Therefore, dietary intake is sometimes necessary especially in times of stress.
Taurine is found in abundance in the brain, retina, heart and in blood cells called platelets, Keatley says.
It’s worth noting, according to Cording: Taurine is very commonly added to energy drinks.
The potential benefits of taurine
There are not many studies on the impact of taurine on humans. However, research has shown that it is involved in several brain processes. It’s an important nutrient for brain function, Cording says.
It’s also sometimes discussed as an important nutrient for heart health, says Cording. Research has shown that taurine has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, can help regulate blood pressure, and may even protect against coronary heart disease.
Prior to this study, taurine was already recognized for various potential health benefits, Keatley says. It may aid in diabetes management by improving glucose control and reducing insulin resistance. Taurine may also have antioxidant properties, potentially helping to fight inflammation and protect the body’s cells from damage.
Cording notes this important point: We don’t actually have clear guidelines on taurine. It means that there is no official recommendation for all Americans to take a certain amount of taurine every day. However, Keatley says athletes take taurine to enhance performance, while others may use it to help manage conditions like heart disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, and even improve mentally.
But most of the potential benefits of taking taurine have been associated with animal and in vitro studies, not humans, says Keri Gans, RD, author of The diet of small changes. More research in clinically controlled human trials is needed to confirm any health benefits.
Are there any risks in taking taurine?
Taurine is generally considered safe when taken in moderation, Keatley says. However, having too much can lead to side effects, including:
People with kidney problems should avoid taurine supplements, as their kidneys may not be able to remove it effectively, leading to a buildup in the body, says Keatley.
Foods that contain taurine
You can get taurine from some foods. Keatley says these are the major sources:
Meat: Chicken, beef and pork contain taurine, with darker meat typically containing more than white meat.
Energy drinks: Many energy drinks contain taurine. It’s worth noting that these drinks also often contain high levels of caffeine and sugar, which may not be in line with all healthy diets, Keatley says.
The bottom line
While there has been some research into taurine, there is still a lot to explore. Most of the research we have on taurine is in animals, Cording says. We need more human studies to better understand that this is something that should be recommended for humans.
She suggests focusing on dietary sources of taurine. Gans agrees. At this time, I’m not sure there’s enough clinical evidence to suggest taking taurine, he says. Most people can get adequate amounts from their daily diet, along with what their body produces.
Worth noting: Yadav also advises against taking a taurine supplement. We don’t currently recommend taurine supplementation in humans, he says. We first need to test it in different groups and populations.
If you’re still interested in taking a taurine supplement, Keatley recommends talking to your doctor first. If someone is interested in taking taurine, they should consult a healthcare professional first, she says. This is especially important for people with existing health conditions or those who are pregnant or nursing.
Keatley also points out that the recent study linking taurine to anti-aging is mostly based on mice, monkeys and worms. More research, especially well-controlled human trials, is needed to establish the anti-aging effects of taurine in humans, she says.
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