SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A specific nutrient could be the secret ingredient in a new anti-aging therapy. Researchers from the University of São Paulo have discovered that the amino acid taurine can help to combat the aging process.
The human body produces potentially toxic byproducts called “free radicals” when cells process oxygen and food. Even though some of these molecules carry out functions essential to the body, too many free radicals can damage the cells’ internal structures, stopping the cells from functioning properly and possibly leading to chronic diseases. This cellular problem is known as oxidative stress.
When we get older, the control mechanisms that help maintain an appropriate reactive oxygen species balance become less efficient. This is where dieting and taurine come into play.
What is taurine?
Taurine is a nutrient people can find in certain foods, including fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey, and beef. It is also a naturally occurring substance in some tissues of the human body, especially the liver. Taurine is also important for the health of the central nervous system, immunity, eyesight, and fertility, according to researchers.
For the study, study authors divided 24 women between the ages of 55 and 70 into two groups. One group took three 500-milligram capsules of taurine daily for 16 weeks, while the other group took a placebo.
Researchers analyzed oxidative stress markers in blood samples collected before and at the end of the study. They found a nearly 20-percent increase of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) in the taurine group. Meanwhile, the placebo group saw a decrease of 3.5 percent. Researchers explain that SOD protects cells against harmful reactions of free radicals. Antioxidants, in general, keep free radicals in check and lower oxidative stress.
“Preventing the buildup of free radicals that naturally occurs with aging probably prevents cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, among other chronic conditions,” says co-principal investigator Ellen de Freitas, a professor at the Ribeirao Preto School of Physical Education and Sports, in a media release.
Freitas says there are few studies which examine the effects of taurine in the context of aging.
“This study was a first step, aimed at investigating the ideal dose and possible side effects, none of which was observed in any of the participants,” notes Freitas.
Freitas’ group has studied taurine’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects for more than 10 years, first in high-performance athletes and then in obese people.
“The results showed that oxidative stress in these individuals could be controlled when their diet was supplemented with this amino acid. We then decided to test the strategy in the context of aging. This was very novel, so we began with a very low safety dose,” explains Freitas.
Taurine could be the ‘cherry on the cake’ of anti-aging treatments
The study initially set out to investigate the effect of taurine supplementation combined with exercise, but the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled that approach, so researchers only continued with the nutritional part of the study, since they could monitor it remotely.
Researchers analyzed two other oxidative stress markers outside SOD: the antioxidant enzyme glutathione reductase, which decreased drastically in both groups, and malondialdehyde, which increased by 23 percent in the control group and decreased by four percent in the taurine group.
“These results were modest, but we believe a higher dose of taurine could produce stronger evidence for its benefits,” says Freitas.
Gabriela Abud, the study’s first author and a PhD candidate at the Ribeirao Preto Medical School, says changes in the volunteers’ diet in the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown may have affected the biochemical analysis results.
“In addition to markers of oxidative stress, we analyzed levels of minerals such as selenium, zinc, magnesium and calcium, which are important to the functioning of these enzymes,” says Abud. “Selenium, for example, is a co-factor for glutathione peroxidase [which indirectly helps eliminate hydrogen peroxide from the organism] and was reduced in both groups.”
Freitas called the taurine supplementation the “cherry on the cake” to combat the aging process, but people still need to have a healthy diet and exercise.
“A healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise is fundamental for the anti-aging effect to occur,” says Freitas.
The study is published in the journal Nutrition.