All about taurine: a possible anti-aging supplement

Anyone who has had the sick and masochistic obsessionpleasure reading my stuff over the years knows pretty well that I’m not a fan of nutritional supplements. So much so that in 2015 New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sued me and three doctorsin a press release about the settlement the state reached with supplement giant GNC forcing the company to clean up its act.

When it comes to consumer health, we expect companies to achieve a high level of safety. Without testing and safeguards, including those that exclude dangerous allergens, these supplements pose unacceptable risks for New York families. I urge all herbal supplement manufacturers and retailers to join GNC in working with my office to increase transparency and put their customers’ safety first.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Press Release, 2015

Since then, ACSH has been fortunate enough to be joined by the fantastic Dr. Henry Miller (and his Bedlington terrier, Cracker). Miller and I feel alike about the absurdity of supplement regulations, something that should be clear from the 2019 editorial we wrote together, as well as his most recent article.

Dr. Henry Miller and Cracker. Or viceversa.

But an article about one supplement, taurine, recently caught my eye because (and let’s not get ahead of ourselves) there were some interesting tidbits.

What is Taurine?

Damn. The internet messes up left and right. Some examples:

  • “Taurine is a amino acid which has some important roles in your body” (Healthline)
  • “Taurine is essential amino acid for children” (University of Rochester)
  • “Taurine, [is] A amino acid often used by bodybuilders” (CNN)
  • “Taurine is plentiful amino acid in the brain” (NIH – Ouch!)

Why is it wrong? To begin with, the term “amino acid” is typically used to refer to one of the 20 building blocks of proteins (Figure 1, left, center). But if you’re chemically liberal, you can expand this definition to include any molecule, naturally occurring or not, that contains both an amino group and a carboxylic acid (Figure 1, right).

Figure 1. (Left) The generic structure for all 20 amino acids that make up proteins. They differ only in pink “R” groups – 20 of them. (Center) Two of the 20 proteogenic amino acids (used to make proteins). Yellow arrows indicate alpha carbon (same position as R in the left figure). (Right) Two non-proteogenic (but biologically important) amino acids.

Because taurine is not an amino acid

Taurine does not fit into the generic structure because it is a aminosulfonicacid, where sulfur (in the oxidation state of sulfonic acid) replaces carbon. But even if you could magically convert taurine (Figure 2, left) into its carbon analog beta-alanine (middle), it still technically wouldn’t be an amino acid in the strictest sense of the term because that term is typically reserved for the proteogenic amino. acids; beta-alanine is not one. So, actually, calling taurine an amino acid is two errors in a small molecule.

Figure 2. (L) Alanine is one of 20 proteogenic amino acids. All 20 differ in the substituent on the alpha carbon. (C) beta-alanine, an isomer of alanine, is a non-proteogenic amino acid. (A) Taurine, an aminosulfonic acid, is neither, although it contains both an amino group and an acid group.

Is taurine a useful supplement?

For the past few weeks, taurine has been in the news as a potential anti-aging chemical, stemming from a recent article inScience.

The lead author, Vijay K. Yadav, an assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, is joined by 53 (!) co-authors in a long and very complex paper. Below are some of the highlights.

  • Taurine, one of the most abundant “amino acids” in blood, declines with age in mice, monkeys and humans.
  • Taurine levels are associated with health
  • In humans, taurine levels are associated with age-related diseases
  • But it’s not known whether taurine affects aging.
  • The authors addressed this problem with taurine supplementation in mice.

A smattering of results

  • Supplementing mice with taurine increased their lifespan by about 10-25%, depending on how it was measured.
  • This effect was observed in both male and female mice.
  • Supplementation reduced markers of aging including cellular deterioration, telomerase deficiency, mitochondrial dysfunction, DNA damage, inflammation… more.

Below is just an example of many experiments conducted by the group. The red line represents mice fed taurine, while the blue line was not. The difference in lifespan is real and significant. That’s about three months, which is about an eight percent difference in mice that were already middle-aged. Assuming that the experiments on mice mimic exactly what happens in humans (almost never), this would add about five years to our lives. This is a lot. Would they be healthy years? If the increased lifespan was a result of improved metabolic functions and real anti-aging properties, I don’t see why not.

Lifespan analysis of middle-aged WT (14 months). (1)females and males were fed orally taurine (1000 mg per kg body weight per day) at 10:00 until the end of life.Source:Science,Jun 9, 2023, Vol380,Issue6649DOI: 10.1126/science.abn9257

Should I run out and buy taurine?

If you live long enough to read the entire newspaper, you probably won’t need to. But the authors build a compelling case that taurine supplementation could be beneficial in treating a variety of conditions: slowed aging, reduced body fat, increased bone strength, coordination, decreased inflammation, and improved health mental.

When I see a hodgepodge of unrelated illnesses treated by one supplement, I’m automatically skeptical; it’s a red flag for quackery. But here I’m not so sure. The evidence (and there is a lot of it) is compelling and backed up by multiple experiments that appear to be done with precision. Taurine’s toxicity is low, but too much can cause side effects, some serious.

The authors recommend controlled clinical trials in humans, so I might wait a while to see results. Assuming I live long enough.


(1) Wild mice (WT) have not been genetically modified to exaggerate any traits.

#taurine #antiaging #supplement
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