Living long is what we all want, but it's important to do it in good health. Well, an amino acid called taurine, which can be produced by our bodies or introduced through diet and supplements, seems to be the key to keeping disease at bay and increasing both the years of life and those spent in health. This is what emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the prestigious journal Science thanks to a vast collaboration, led by American scientists from Columbia University, and involving dozens of experts and researchers from all over the world (Singh et al, Science, June 2023).
Long and healthy life is possible
According to estimates by the World Population Prospects of the United Nations, people over 65, who are currently one in eleven, will reach one in six in 2050. This is definitely a great success of modern medicine. However, for success to be full, it is necessary that not only the years of life increase but also the years spent in health. Aging and health, in short, the perfect combination that cancels the idea that as the years go by it is almost necessary to have ailments and disorders. Just utopia? No, as emerges from the very recent research we are talking about today. But let's try to understand better.
The key is the amino acid taurine
It all started a few years ago, when scientists at Columbia University were studying the mechanisms underlying osteoporosis. It was on that occasion that researchers noticed the role of an amino acid, taurine, in bone formation. Not only that, at the same time it emerged that taurine is also able to regulate processes such as immune function, nervous system functions and metabolism. All these processes undergo a decline as age progresses and this consideration has shown taurine in a very interesting light. Can taurine also affect lifespan and health?
With taurine a longer and healthier life, the study
The research involved several species, including mice, worms, monkeys and eventually even humans. What scientists have observed is, first, that in all these living beings, taurine tends to decrease with age. In humans, 60-year-olds have about one-third as much taurine as a 5-year-old. So, can restoring taurine levels trigger rejuvenation mechanisms? This was the question that dictated the research, here's what emerged. The first part of the study was carried out on a sample of 250 mice. One part of the mice was given taurine every day while the other part of the mice were kept as controls. What emerged was that taurine increased lifespan by 12% for female mice and 10% for male mice, which would correspond to about 7-8 years longer for humans. Not only that, the mice that had taken the taurine were also healthier. For example, taurine was able to counteract weight gain in female mice, even those in "menopause", increased energy expenditure, bone mass, muscle strength and functionality of the immune system. At the same time, the intake of taurine made it possible to reduce anxious behaviors, depression and insulin resistance. This means that taurine helped the mice not only live longer but also stay healthy. Similar results were also observed in monkeys, which, following the intake of taurine, had a lower body weight, higher bone density and better functioning of the immune system. As far as humans are concerned, at present the scientists have only observed that in the analyzed sample, made up of 12,000 volunteers over 60 years of age, those who had higher taurine levels also had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and chronic inflammation.
This is how taurine works
Scientists have also managed to explain the mechanisms of action of taurine. In particular, taurine has reduced the number of what are called zombie cells, which are old cells that should complete their life cycle but instead persist and release harmful substances. In addition, taurine has increased the number of stem cells in some tissues, which promotes repair processes, improved the performance of mitochondria and reduced DNA damage.
Therefore, taurine could be a powerful elixir ... Although at present there are still no studies indicating that taurine supplementation extends life and the years spent in health in humans, everything suggests that this is exactly the case. Clearly the research continues and will have to shed light on this aspect as well. Until science takes its course, what we can do is make sure that our body has taurine. For example, the same Columbia University scientists observed that taurine levels in the body increase following physical exercise, both in athletes and in sedentary people. Not only that, taurine is an amino acid naturally contained in some foods, such as crustaceans and molluscs, especially prawns, scallops, mussels, clams and squid, in some fish, such as tuna, in red algae, such as nori seaweed, in small amounts in dairy products.