Posted on 9 June 2023
Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Energy drinks might perk you up, but they certainly aren’t good for you. Not only are they highly calorific, but energy drinks also contain a lot of caffeine. While caffeine consumption is associated with increased lifespan in humans, combining caffeine with sugar might promote diabetes and this combination is best avoided.
It turns out that caffeine is not the only component of energy drinks that might extend lifespan in isolation. Taurine is an amino acid that plays many important roles in the human body, including mopping up harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species. Taurine is added to energy drinks based on evidence (though somewhat tenuous in nature) that taurine may improve cognitive function.
There’s also evidence that the concentration of taurine in the blood decreases with age, and that this correlates with declining health. But does taurine contribute to ageing? Researchers set out to provide an answer.
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers looked at taurine blood concentrations throughout life in mice, monkeys and human subjects. They also investigated whether supplementing with taurine would affect the lifespans of yeast, C.elegans worms and the house mouse. About 1200 worms were split into groups and fed varying concentrations of taurine. A total of 246 mice were split into two groups and fed either taurine or a placebo, starting at 14 months of age (lab mice live about twice this long on average). They then studied the effects of taurine supplementation on lifespan and markers of ageing.
Key takeaway(s) from this research:
As suggested by previous research, the study found that blood taurine levels decreased during ageing. In humans, the average blood taurine decreased by roughly 50% between ages 20 and 60. However, this does not tell us whether taurine deficiency causes ageing in humans, or whether it is just a manifestation of other drivers of the ageing process.
Taurine supplementation had no significant effect on yeast cells, but it did have a significant impact on both the worms and the mice. In worms, higher doses of taurine correlated with increased average (median) lifespan, and the maximum lifespan attained by the worms was also increased. The longest-surviving worms given taurine lived 23% longer than the longest-surviving worms in the control group. This was confirmed in two independent laboratories.
Similar results were observed in mice – both male and female mice given taurine had an approximate 12% increase in average (median) lifespan, and the longest living mice from the taurine groups lived about 2 months longer than those receiving the control substance. Researchers also found that taurine was associated with various health benefits in both male and female groups of older mice, including increased bone mass, muscle strength and blood sugar control. This suggests that, at least in these specific animal models, taurine supplementation may indeed delay ageing.
As for the potential mechanisms of these benefits, taurine was associated with a reduction in many hallmarks of ageing including telomere attrition, genomic instability and cellular senescence.
These results all sound fairly impressive, but we have to remember that animal studies rarely translate to humans in ways we hope for. The inbred mice used in this study already have some inherent health problems related to ageing (such as susceptibility to diabetes and poor bone density), and taurine might just be ameliorating these defects. Also, the taurine dose in this study was high – an average, healthy male human would need to consume about 80 grams of taurine to receive an equivalent dose (though that won’t necessarily be necessary to achieve an equivalent effect). Still, these findings are enough to justify further investigation into the safety and potential benefits of taurine supplementation in humans.
Fish are a good source of taurine, especially shellfish and tuna. Poultry can also be a good source. We still don’t recommend energy drinks though, no matter how much taurine they have in them.