Taurine loss may be driving ageing, scientists believe, after finding that supplements can slow down the process.
Experts said that taurine, a chemical that occurs naturally in the body and is often added to caffeine-based energy drinks such as Red Bull, could be “an elixir of life” that may improve health and help people live longer.
A team from Columbia University, in New York, found that taurine levels dropped by 80 per cent over the human lifespan.
When they boosted levels in middle-aged rhesus monkeys, they discovered the supplement prevented weight gain, reduced blood glucose and markers of liver damage, increased bone density and improved the immune system.
Supplements also extended the healthy lifespans of middle-aged mice by up to three to four extra months, the equivalent to about seven or eight human years.
“Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, we also found that they’re living healthier lives,” said Dr Vijay Yadav, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“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.
“This study suggests that taurine could be an elixir of life within us that helps us live longer and healthier lives.”
Previous research into taurine has found that it plays an important role in building bone, and levels are correlated with how well the nervous and immune systems function.
Although the team said it did not know if supplements could improve longevity in humans, when they looked at levels of taurine in 12,000 adults they found people with higher levels were healthier.
Those with lower levels of taurine suffered from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and inflammation.
The team also measures taurine levels in athletes and sedentary individuals and found that exercise boosted taurine. It suggests that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from increasing taurine levels.
“These are associations, which do not establish causation, but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human ageing,” added Dr Yadav.
“If taurine is regulating all these processes that decline with age, maybe taurine levels in the bloodstream affect overall health and lifespan.
“Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-ageing strategy.”
Mice treated with the supplements for one year were found to be healthier in almost every way than their untreated counterparts.
These experts measured various health parameters in mice and found that at aged two - 60 in human years - animals supplemented with taurine for one year were healthier in almost every way than their untreated counterparts.
The supplement decreased the number of “zombie cells” - old cells that should die but instead linger and release harmful substances. It also increased the number of stem cells in some tissues and improved the performance of mitochondria - the cell’s batteries.
The research was published in the journal Science.