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What opens the aging spigot? What sets in motion this complex process that affects all organs of the body with age? Can it be reversed? Scientific research has allowed us to uncover some of the biological processes that occur in our body when we get older, but there is still much unknown about the mechanisms that drive aging, which are closely related to our chances of living longer and better.

A study published this week in the journal Science points out the role that taurine could play in this regard, a semi-essential micronutrient produced by our body and we can also obtain through the diet.

According to their data, in different animal species taurine deficiency is an important driver of aging.

"Our study demonstrates that taurine abundance decreases with age and that reversing that decline [through supplementation] increases lifespan in mice and worms and increases healthy lifespan in macaques. The next step is to investigate what happens in humans, "explained at a press conference Vijay Yadav, researcher at the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University and leader of the study, who stressed that it is still early to draw conclusions about the effect of taurine on longevity of people. "We do not know if it can be an antiaging therapy, but with the data obtained it is reasonable to analyze it," he said.

"In any case we must wait for the results of human trials," said Henning Wackerhage, head of the Exercise Biology group at the Technical University of Munich and another of the main signatories of the work, who warned that these results in no case are an invitation to consume products rich in taurine. like some energy drinks.

The main sources of taurine are meat products, fish and seafood. It is also present in dairy products, eggs and nuts, but, in addition, in recent years it has become a common ingredient in the so-called energy drinks, which in addition to this substance contain large amounts of other ingredients, such as sugars or caffeine.

Reactions from experts

The study "is very interesting" and "associates a component of the diet with a healthy life span"; However, "to test whether taurine deficiency is also a driver of aging in humans, long-term and well-controlled taurine supplementation trials are required that measure healthy life expectancy and life expectancy as outcomes," Nabil Djouder, head of the Growth Factors Group, told EL MUNDO. Nutrients and Cancer of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), which has not participated in the research.

José Alberto López, a researcher in the Cellular Plasticity and Disease Laboratory at IRB Barcelona, agrees with his point of view, and believes that "it is worth analysing in different clinical trials" both the possible relationship of taurine deficiency in diseases linked to ageing and the effects of dietary supplementation in humans.

In this sense, he added, the work should also study the safety profile of the doses since, although it is a known and studied molecule, "the doses used in animal experiments are very high."

The importance of taurine

The research whose results are now published, in which more than 20 teams of scientists have participated, has first shown that the blood concentration of taurine decreases with age in both mice and monkeys and humans. As we get older, the levels of this amino acid are reduced. Thus, the blood concentration of taurine that an elderly person has is up to 80% lower than that of a young individual.

After checking this data in different species, the researchers wondered if this decrease was a consequence of aging or one of the causes that caused it, so they launched an experiment whose objective was to find out the effect of supplementing the diet of a sample of mice with taurine.

They started from 250 14-month-old specimens (the equivalent of middle age in humans). About half were given a daily taurine dose of 1,000 mg per kilo of body weight at meal, while the rest were offered a safe control solution. At the end of the experiment, the researchers found that the life expectancy of the animals that had received taurine was 10-12% higher than that of the others. Also, the life expectancy at 28 months of these mice rose to 25%.

To test whether this taurine effect also occurred in other animal species, the researchers repeated the experiment first in the nematode worm species Caenorhabditis elegans, where they also observed an extension of life expectancy in four independent analyses. In studies in the fungus Saccharomyces cerevisiae, however, taurine supplementation did not affect life extension.

The researchers then wanted to go a step further and check if the time of life gained that was observed in different species when supplementing with taurine their diet was also associated with better health. In this way, they carried out an experiment in mice to study the health of their bones, muscles, brain, pancreas or immune system, among other factors.

The tests showed positive results, with better results in bone health, metabolic profiles or the immune system. It improved muscle strength and endurance, insulin resistance, energy expenditure or age-related weight gain, among other factors. In addition,in a similar experiment in macaques, the researchers obtained similar results.

On the other hand, the scientists also found that, at the cellular level, taurine was also associated with improvements such as a decrease in senescent cells (or zombie cells), an increase in the number of stem cells present in some tissues, a better functioning of mitochondria or a reduction in DNA damage, among other evidence.

Evidence in humans

Although researchers have not yet conducted experiments to find out if taurine supplementation leads to increased longevity in humans, they have conducted studies suggesting positive effects. Thus, they observed in a series of studies with more than 12,000 individuals that people with higher levels of taurine had fewer cases of obesity, type 2 diabetes or hypertension. On the other hand, they also found that the concentrations of the amino acid increased with exercise.

"Associations do not allow causation," the researchers told reporters, "but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging," they said.

At the moment, the research has not allowed to uncover the mechanisms that are behind this association, nor questions such as why the decrease in taurine levels begins or if physical exercise is able to promote the production of the amino acid or if what favors is its concentration in blood.

These new data on the role of taurine in aging join those recently obtained with other molecules, such as metformin or rapamycin, also associated with longevity. "The results shown by experiments with these molecules are similar. The potential advantage of taurine, if its effects in humans are demonstrated, is that unlike metformin or rapamycin, it is not a drug, so a priori its safety profile could be better, "says López.

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