A study led by Columbia University researchers, in collaboration with the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, finds that deficiency of taurine, a molecule produced in our bodies, drives aging, and taurine supplements can improve health and increase lifespan in animals


A deficiency of taurine—a nutrient produced in the body and found in many foods—is a driver of aging in animals, according to a new study “Taurine deficiency as a driver of aging” recently published in Science, led by Columbia University researchers.

This study involved dozens of researchers around the world, including Dr Bhupinder Pal, Head of the Cancer Single Cell Genomics Lab from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, home to the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine.

“For the last 25 years, scientists have been trying to find factors that not only let us live longer, but also increase healthspan, the time we remain healthy in our old age,” says the study’s leader, Dr Vijay Yadav, PhD, assistant professor of genetics & development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

As we age, our cells undergo changes in cellular processes, increasing the risk of age-related diseases.

“This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”

Anti-aging molecules within us

Over the past two decades, efforts to identify interventions that improve health in old age have intensified as people are living longer and scientists have learned that the aging process can be manipulated.

Many studies have found that various molecules carried through the bloodstream are associated with aging. Less certain is whether these molecules actively direct the aging process or are just passengers going along for the ride. If a molecule is a driver of aging, then restoring its youthful levels would delay aging and increase healthspan, the years we spend in good health.

Taurine first came into Dr Yadav’s view during his previous research into osteoporosis that uncovered taurine’s role in building bone. Around the same time, other researchers were finding that taurine levels correlated with immune function, obesity, and nervous system functions.

“We realized that if taurine is regulating all these processes that decline with age, maybe taurine levels in the bloodstream affect overall health and lifespan,” Dr Yadav says.

Taurine declines with age, supplementation increases lifespan in animals

First, Dr Yadav’s research team looked at levels of taurine in the bloodstream of animals and humans and found that the taurine abundance decreases substantially with age. In humans, taurine levels in 60-year-old individuals were only about one-third of those found in 5-year-olds.

“That’s when we started to ask if taurine deficiency is a driver of the aging process, and we set up a large pre-clinical experiment,” Dr Yadav says.

At the end of the experiment, Dr Yadav and his team found that taurine increased average lifespan up to 12%.

Taurine supplements in middle age improves health in old age

To learn how taurine impacted health, Dr Yadav brought in other researchers who investigated the effect of taurine supplementation on the health and lifespan in several species.

These experts measured various health parameters in mice  and found that at age 2 (60 in human years), animals supplemented with taurine for one year were healthier in almost every way than their untreated counterparts.

“Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, we also found that they’re living healthier lives,” Yadav says.

Dr Bhupinder Pal, Co-investigator from Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, explains how his research team supported Dr Yadav to understand how taurine increases healthy lifespan.

“We performed RNA sequencing to analyze taurine-deficient cells. These analyses showed that taurine-deficient cells exhibit changes in pathways involved in aging. The genes most affected by taurine deficiency are related to processes such as the immune system.”

“At a cellular level, taurine improved many functions that usually decline with age: The supplement decreased the number of “zombie cells” (old cells that usually accumulate with age should die but instead linger and release harmful substances), increased survival after telomerase deficiency, increased the number of stem cells present in some tissues (which can help tissues heal after injury), improved the performance of mitochondria, reduced DNA damage, and improved the cells‘ ability to sense nutrient,” said Dr Pal.

Randomized clinical trial needed

While the researchers do not know yet if taurine supplements will improve health or increase longevity in humans, two experiments they conducted suggest taurine has potential.

In the first, Dr Yadav and his team looked at the relationship between taurine levels and approximately 50 health parameters in 12,000 European adults aged 60 and over. Overall, people with higher taurine levels were healthier, with fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity levels, reduced hypertension, and lower levels of inflammation. “These are associations, which do not establish causation,” Dr Yadav says, “but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human aging.”

The second study tested if taurine levels would respond to an intervention known to improve health: exercise. The researchers measured taurine levels before and after a variety of male athletes and sedentary individuals finished a strenuous cycling workout and found a significant increase in taurine among all groups of athletes (sprinters, endurance runners, and natural bodybuilders) and sedentary individuals.

“No matter the individual, all had increased taurine levels after exercise, which suggests that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from an increase in taurine,” Dr Yadav says.

Only a randomized clinical trial in people will determine if taurine truly has health benefits, Yadav adds. Taurine trials are currently underway for obesity, but none are designed to measure a wide range of health parameters.

Other potential anti-aging drugs—including metformin, rapamycin, and NAD analogs—are being considered for testing in clinical trials.

“I think taurine should also be considered,” Dr Yadav says. “And it has some advantages: Taurine is naturally produced in our bodies, it can be obtained naturally in the diet, it has no known toxic effects (although it’s rarely used in concentrations used ­­­), and it can be boosted by exercise.

“Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-aging strategy.”