The Forgotten Longevity Benefits of TaurineJune 2013
By Ian Macleavy
The Japanese have a life expectancy that is among the highest in the world. In fact, Okinawa, Japan’s famous “Island of Longevity,” likely has the world’s highest percentage of people over 100 years old.1
Undoubtedly, there are many factors that play into the life spans of the longest-living populations, but evidence shows that they all have one thing in common: high dietary intake of an amino acid called taurine.2
The connection between taurine and a long life is so strong that researchers have dubbed taurine, “The nutritional factor for the longevity of the Japanese.”3
Taurine promotes cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, electrolyte balance, hearing function, and immune modulation. In animal research, taurine protected against heart failure, reducing mortality by nearly 80%.4
Its benefits are so broad and extensive that scientists have described taurine as “a wonder molecule.”5
Taurine is found abundantly in healthy bodies.6 However, certain diets, particularly vegetarian or vegan diets, lack adequate amounts of taurine.7,8 Disease states—including liver, kidney, or heart failure, diabetes, and cancer—can all cause a deficiency in taurine.9-11 And aging bodies often cannot internally produce an optimal amount of taurine, making supplementation vital.12
That’s why those interested in longevity should consider this vital and super low-cost nutrient. In this article, you’ll learn how boosting taurine levels can contribute to better cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurologic health.
Why We Need Supplemental Taurine
In the enthusiasm to investigate new longevity compounds, sometimes the importance of venerable ones that have been around for decades is forgotten. Such is the case of taurine. Foundation members used to get taurine as part of multi-nutrient formula, but this product is not as popular as it once was.
A study released in November 2012 made the bold statement that taurine is one of the most essential substances in the body. The authors wrote:8 “Considering its broad distribution, its many cytoprotective attributes, and its functional significance in cell development, nutrition, and survival, taurine is undoubtedly one of the most essential substances in the body.”
Although it’s possible for your body to produce taurine on its own, you still need to obtain taurine through diet and supplementation in order to achieve optimal amounts of this essential nutrient.8,11,13
Because of taurine’s essential role in the body, supplementing with taurine can provide numerous health benefits, including restoring insulin sensitivity, mitigating diabetic complications, reversing cardiovascular disease factors, preventing and treating fatty liver disease, alleviating seizures, reversing tinnitus, and more.
Taurine Prevents Obesity
One of the ways taurine can help improve overall health is by fighting obesity. Obesity impacts every area of the body, especially because of the inflammation-generating abdominal fat stores. Human studies show that 3 grams per day of taurine for 7 weeks reduced body weight significantly in a group of overweight or obese (but not-yet-diabetic) adults.14 Subjects saw significant declines in their serum triglycerides and “atherogenic index,” a ratio of multiple cholesterol components that predicts atherosclerosis risk.
Various animal studies support the anti-obesity and lipid-lowering capabilities of taurine, both alone and combined with other natural products.15,16 These studies highlight taurine’s ability to improve glucose tolerance in obese animals, an important benefit given how many overweight people go on to develop diabetes.17,18
Perhaps most alarming, animal research reveals that obesity itself causes a decline in plasma taurine levels, which, in a vicious cycle, further promotes obesity.19 The observed decline in taurine levels was seen in mouse models of both genetic obesity and diet-induced obesity. Fortunately, in the same study, taurine supplementation interrupted the cycle, helping to prevent obesity and its consequences.19
Taurine Promotes Glucose Control—and Treats Diabetes
It is a known fact that taurine concentrations are lower among diabetics than they are in healthy individuals.20 Given the above information about low taurine levels promoting obesity, it is clear that the low levels of taurine only serve to promote the interdependence of diabetes and obesity.20 Fortunately, human studies have shown that supplementing with just 1.5 grams of taurine a day can restore taurine levels to those in healthy control subjects, and additional animal research has shown that taurine supplementation can help prevent the onset of type II diabetes.20,21
Normal taurine concentrations are essential in controlling diabetes and the impact of its consequences. Animal studies have found that having adequate taurine concentrations helps control diabetes by reducing blood glucose and restoring insulin sensitivity.22 But it doesn’t stop there. Taurine helps prevent—and even reverse—many of the consequences associated with the disease.
For example, in adult diabetics, supplementation with 1.5 grams of taurine daily for just 14 days can reverse diabetes-induced abnormalities in arterial stiffness and in the ability of the vasculature to respond to changes in blood flow or pressure.23 This can be critical to the longevity of diabetics, since these types of abnormalities are to blame for diabetics’ increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. In addition, studies in diabetic rats show that taurine helps protect heart function and helps prevent heart muscle damage, due in part to the ability of taurine to increase glucose transport from blood into energy-hungry heart muscle cells.24,25 In the process of increasing glucose transport into energy producing cells, blood glucose levels are lowered.
Additional animal and cell culture studies have revealed that taurine supplementation is effective against diabetic complications as well. Taurine supports nerve fiber integrity, potentially slowing or reversing painful diabetic neuropathy.26-29 And in the retina, another target of destructive elevated blood glucose, taurine fights glucose-induced oxidant stress and preserves the health of light-sensing cells in diabetic retinopathy.30-32 Kidney damage, another consequence of diabetes, can be minimized with taurine supplementation in diabetic animals.33
Taurine Reverses Cardiovascular Disease Factors
Taurine has powerful effects on the heart and blood vessels. People with higher levels of taurine have significantly lower rates of dying from coronary heart disease.1,34 Additionally, they have lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of dangerous lipids. Many different mechanisms account for these powerful effects on the heart and blood vessels.
In animal models of hypertension, taurine supplementation lowers blood pressure by reducing the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessel walls and by minimizing nerve impulses in the brain that drive blood pressure up.35,36 Oral taurine supplementation has been found to reduce the arterial thickening and stiffness characteristic of atherosclerosis, to restore arteries’ responses to beneficial endothelial nitric oxide, and to reduce inflammation (a direct contributor to cardiovascular disease).34,35
A study of patients needing coronary bypass surgery showed that consuming a liquid drink containing 3 grams of taurine, combined with 3 grams carnitine, 150 mg CoQ10, and basic multivitamin nutrients, reduced left-sided ventricular volume during the heart’s resting phase (diastole).37 This is important since an increased left-ventricular diastolic volume is the single greatest predictor of death in patients requiring bypass or stent placements. This makes taurine a vital component of such patients’ diets.
Taurine Provides Potent Retina Protection
Taurine is especially vital when it comes to eye health. Adequate levels can help prevent age-related vision loss; conversely, a deficiency can lead to troubling vision problems. Age-related vision loss has many different causes, but near the top is the impact of oxidative stress on light-sensing cells in the retina. Such damage leads to age-related macular degeneration and other forms of retinal disease.45
While taurine is found in very high concentrations in the retina, it declines significantly with age.46-48 Additionally, the taurine found in the retina fights oxidative stress, especially in diabetes, and helps restore deficient levels of nerve growth factor, required for maintaining retinal health.46,30,31
When taurine levels are deficient, a variety of vision problems can occur including retinal ganglion cell degeneration,49 and in children, retinal dysfunction;7 taurine supplementation has been shown to ameliorate diabetic retinopathy.30 Evidence is strong that taurine is vital in maintaining optimal retinal function.50
Certain drugs deplete the body of taurine, which can induce retinal damage.48,49,51 These include frequently used chemotherapy drugs such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®) and busultan (Bulsufex®) as well as the anti-epileptic drug vigabatrin (Sabril®). Radiation therapy has also been shown to deplete the body of taurine.51 Fortunately, supplementation can restore taurine levels to normal and protect the retina in such cases.32,46,47,52
Taurine Helps Reverse Tinnitus
Taurine plays a vital role in hearing. In fact, studies have found that in some cases, taurine can reverse the biochemical processes behind hearing loss.53,54 Other studies have demonstrated that taurine can almost completely eliminate the ringing in the ears associated with tinnitus.55
Much of the damage to hearing occurs not in the mechanical parts of the ear, but rather in the nerve cells that convert sound waves into the electrical energy that is perceived in our brains. Like other nerve cells, these so-called “hair cells” depend on the flow of calcium ions into and out of the cell. Taurine helps restore and control normal calcium ion flow in auditory cells.53,56
Taurine improves the hearing ability in animals exposed to drugs like the antibiotic gentamicin, which is notoriously toxic to hearing.54 And in a boon for the 17% of us troubled by chronic tinnitus (ringing in the ears), taurine may be helpful in quieting the noise.57 Animal studies using human equivalent doses of 700 mg to 3.2 grams per day of taurine over the course of several weeks demonstrate near-complete resolution of tinnitus with taurine supplementation (the animals had been trained in tasks that are sensitive to distraction by tinnitus).55 And a human pilot study has shown encouraging results, with 12% of people responding to taurine supplementation.58
Solution for Seizures
While there are many types and many causes of epilepsy (seizures), a disruption in the function of excitable brain tissue underlies all of them. One of taurine’s major roles in mammalian biology is the regulation of such excitable tissues, making taurine of natural interest to scientists and clinicians who study epilepsy.59
Animal studies reveal that taurine depletion makes seizures more likely, while supplementation with taurine is capable of preventing seizures induced by a number of drugs and chemical toxins.59-61 Taurine appears to work by increasing the levels of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), the enzyme responsible for the production of the neurotransmitter GABA, as well as by binding to so-called GABA receptors in brain cells, calming them and reducing their likelihood of participating in the random, uncoordinated electrical firing that produces an epileptic seizure.59,61
Taurine Prevents and Treats Liver Disease
Increasing evidence suggests that taurine may help treat the most common cause of liver disease in the US, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (or NAFLD). Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat accumulates in the liver, and it can be caused by insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Over time, the end result is the loss of liver function, leading to liver cirrhosis.
The human liver is our master detoxifying organ, screening our blood flow many times over each day for substances that can damage our bodies. Taurine is an integral part of the liver’s self-protective mechanisms.
Studies show that taurine defends liver cells against free radicals and toxins, helping to reduce the severity of oxidative stress-induced liver injury.62 This is vitally important in alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases, both of which can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.63,64
Human studies reveal the impact of taurine on liver disease. When 24 patients with chronic hepatitis took 2 grams of taurine 3 times daily for 3 months, serum markers of liver damage, as well as markers of oxidative stress, decreased significantly, as did their elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.65
Taurine is the most abundant amino acid you’ve never heard of. Strong evidence suggests that groups with the longest life spans consume higher amounts of taurine than those of us in the rest of the world. High intakes of taurine could be the underlying factor in the world’s longest-living populations—and for good reason.
Taurine supplementation can mitigate the damaging effects of fat, glucose, and excess insulin. Taurine strengthens and protects heart muscle cells and the system of blood vessels that supplies blood throughout the body, helping to protect against atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
And taurine protects vision and hearing. It can prevent and alleviate seizures, and it has been shown to treat the most common cause of liver disease in the United States.
With epidemiological evidence that it contributes to the longevity of famously long-lived groups, taurine belongs on the short-list of supplements necessary for maintaining optimal health in the face of aging.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.
- Available at: http://www.okicent.org. Accessed February 28, 2013
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