A common nutrient found in everyday foods may hold the key to a long, healthy life, according to researchers at Columbia University.
The nutrient in question is taurine, a natural amino acid with a range of essential roles in the body.
Not only does the concentration of this nutrient in our bodies decrease with age, but supplementation can increase lifespan by up to 12% in different species.
Our main dietary sources of taurine are animal protein, such as meat, fish, and dairy products, although it can also be found in some algae and artificially supplemented energy drinks. It can also be produced inside the body from other amino acids.
In a study published in the journal Science, a team of researchers from around the world examined the effects of this nutrient on health and lifespan. “This study suggests that taurine may be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives,” Vijay Yadav, one of the study’s lead authors, said in a statement.
Yadav, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, first discovered the importance of taurine during his research on osteoporosis, revealing the nutrient’s critical role in regulating bone growth. Similar studies have also shown that taurine may benefit immune function, obesity, and the nervous system.
“We realized that if taurine regulates all of these processes that decline with age, maybe blood taurine levels affect overall health and lifespan,” Yadav said.
In the recent study, Yadav and colleagues found that taurine concentrations decline significantly with age, with concentrations more than 80% lower in 60-year-olds compared to 5-year-olds.
From these results alone, it was still unclear whether the decline in taurine levels was a cause or a consequence of the aging process. So, to study the effects of taurine supplementation on health and lifespan, researchers gave taurine to a group of middle-aged mice once a day for the rest of their lives, comparing their health and their longevity to those of mice that had not received the treatment. .
Remarkably, the average lifespan of these taurine-treated mice increased by 12% in females and 11% in males. At the cellular level, taurine supplementation also decreased the number of “zombie cells” (old cells that can produce inflammation), increased stem cells in certain tissues, reduced DNA damage, and improved the performance of generative powerhouses. cell energy.
The team extended these experiments to a range of different species, including daily supplementation to a group of rhesus monkeys for six months. Again, they found significant improvements in a range of different age-related health markers, including bone density, blood sugar levels and signs of liver damage.
“We were especially happy to say the least when we got these results in different species,” Yadav said. Newsweek. “We were surprised to see how conserved the taurine effect was across evolutionarily divergent species. We saw the effect in worms, mice, zebrafish, and monkeys.”
In humans, higher levels of taurine have been linked to better health outcomes, including fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity, reduced hypertension, and lower levels of inflammation. We don’t know for sure if these correlations are directly related to taurine levels, but they are consistent with results from animal studies.
The team also found that taurine levels increase following exercise, especially in people with active lifestyles. “No matter the individual, all had increased levels of taurine after exercise, suggesting that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from increased taurine,” Yadav said.
Main foods containing taurine
- Dark meat of turkey and chicken
- White fish
- Squid and octopus
Data from Wójcik OP et al., Atherosclerosis, 2010
The exact amount of taurine needed to see significant health improvements is still unclear. “The human equivalent doses for what we used in mice would be 6 grams or 3 grams per day,” Yadav said. “Shells have the highest levels of taurine and even there the levels are around 1mg per gram of weight, so if you eat 500 grams of shellfish you get 500mg.
“We must also remember that after ingestion there will be a loss of taurine in the digestive tract during digestion and absorption.”
Although this study provides interesting insights into the potential roles of taurine in aging, further work is needed to determine how and if taurine supplementation could be used to improve human health and lifespan in the future. .
“The next step in this research is a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of taurine in multiple populations to determine if a taurine intervention will work equally well in humans or animal models,” Yadav said.
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