A study found that taurine supplements helped monkeys become healthier and mice and worms live longer.
Mice given taurine lived up to 12% longer than those who weren't.
But taking taurine supplements for longevity is not recommended until trials on humans have taken place.
A nutrient produced by animals including humans could be the key to a longer and healthier life, according to a new study.
The purpose of the study published on Thursday in the journal Science was to uncover whether levels of taurine — yes, the stuff you get in energy drinks — in the blood affects aging. So the team measured concentrations of the amino acid during the aging process in several animals, and also studied the potential effects of supplementing it.
Like humans, both mice and monkeys naturally produce taurine and levels decline with age — the study found that taurine levels in elderly people were 80% lower than in younger humans.
The team gave mice daily doses of taurine, and found they lived 10 to 12% — or three to four months — longer than those who weren't. They made similar findings in worms.
Taurine also appeared to have benefits including suppressing age-related weight gain in female mice, increasing energy levels and bone mass, improving strength, and reducing depression-like and anxious behaviors.
The team gave taurine supplements to middle-aged rhesus monkeys and saw similar health benefits, although the study wasn't long enough to measure longevity.
The study also found that a bout of exercise appeared to increase concentrations of taurine in the blood of both athletes and sedentary people, which could explain the antiaging effects of exercise, the authors said.
We don't know if taurine can help humans live longer
Vijay Yadav, the study's lead author and professor of genetics and development at Columbia University, said: "This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives."
But this does not mean we should be knocking back energy drinks in the name of longevity just yet. Not only because they tend to be filled with sugar — drinking lots of sugary drinks is linked to early death — but it has not yet been tested on human lifespan.
Only a randomized clinical trial in people will provide answers, Yadav said.
Taurine is used in the body for energy production and to process salts and minerals. The study comes on the back of previous research that found taurine deficiency during early life in some animals was linked to problems with skeletal muscles, eyes, and the nervous system in similar ways to aging-related disorders.
Ilaria Bellantuono, professor of musculoskeletal aging at the University of Sheffield, UK, who was not involved in the study, said a clinical trial on humans is vital to see if taurine supplements are effective, if there are side effects to taking them, how often they need to be taken, and from what age.
She also said that the research was conducted on mice the age equivalent of 50-year-old humans who were still quite healthy, and so more research needs to be done in older animals with more signs of aging.
We can't actually infer that much from this study on the impact it will have on humans, she said, and we definitely should not start taking taurine supplements yet until more research has been carried out.
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