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Taurine Protects Against Age-Related Brain Changes

May 2019

By Amy Huang

For decades, it was assumed that new brain cells stop being produced once a person is fully grown.

Recent findings prove that isn't true. Adults at any age have an ability to create new brain cells.

A low-cost supplement called taurine has been shown to enhance this youth-restoring process.

Taurine protects against neurotoxins in ways that can slow age-related neurological decline.1,2

Preclinical studies show that taurine reduces the kind of damage that people experience as a result of stroke or injury to the brain.3-9

Higher intake of taurine earlier in life is associated with better cognitive function in the elderly.10

The body makes only small amounts of taurine.1,11 To boost taurine levels, it must be acquired from the diet or through supplementation.

What you need to know

  • Taurine is critical for normal brain function.
  • It helps maintain healthy mitochondrial energy supply, which is typically diminished with advancing age.
  • It spurs the growth of new brain cells, even in old age.
  • Maintaining adequate taurine levels may help reduce age-related threats to cognitive function, such as neurotoxins, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
  • In preclinical studies, taurine has been shown to support brain function while shielding against dementia-associated changes and various forms of brain injury.

The Functions of Taurine

Man reading a computer screen

Taurine is an amino acid that helps maintain healthy cells throughout the body.

It is critical for the peak functioning of mitochondria, the "power plants" that supply cells with energy.12,13

Mitochondrial function wanes with age, impairing cellular function and making it harder for cells to defend themselves from stress and injury.14

This is especially true in the brain,15 one of the most metabolically active organs in the body.

Taurine also has many other ways it may help protect and optimize brain health, including:

  • Stimulating new brain cell growth,2,16,17
  • Protecting against excitotoxicity (harmful overactivity in the brain),18
  • Defending against toxins that can damage the brain,19-21
  • Minimizing brain damage caused by stroke and head injuries, and 3-9
  • Preserving normal cellular function and energy supply by regulating calcium, protecting cell membranes, and more.3,22,23

Through these mechanisms, taurine may help protect the aging brain against cognitive impairment, dementia, and damage from strokes, head injuries, and neurotoxins.

Neurogenesis: Keeping the Brain Tuned Up

Preclinical studies show that taurine boosts creation of new brain cells.1,2 This is called neurogenesis, and it is a key to preserving healthy brain function as we age.

When neurogenesis occurs during brain development, it refers to brain cells growing, dividing, and maturing. But neurogenesis doesn't stop after development.

Throughout life, we must maintain healthy, functional brain cells. We also need to protect the connections between those brain cells. All our brain functions—from controlling movement to high-level cognitive tasks like speaking, learning, and remembering—require these vital connections.

Neurogenesis dwindles with age. As a result, our brains shrink. The critical neural connections then become diminished. This can start the slippery slope into cognitive impairment and dementia.

By encouraging the creation of new brain cells,1 taurine could help combat age-related decline in cognitive function.

Several cell and animal studies show that taurine helps "wake up" brain stem cells, stimulates new brain cell production, and supports their survival.1,2,16,17,24-26

This type of effect has been observed in both young, developing brains and in older brains. In one study of middle-aged mice, taurine activated stem cells.1 Significantly, this happened in the hippocampus, a brain region critically important for the formation of new memories. This has obvious ramifications in the fight against Alzheimer's and dementia.

In addition to activating stem cells, taurine produced new cells and supported their survival, while also reducing harmful inflammation in the brain.1

Defense Against Excitotoxicity

Excitotoxicity has long been known to contribute to the damage that occurs after traumatic brain injury and stroke.27 More recently it has also been linked to the progression of dementia in the elderly.28

Excitotoxicity is the process by which brain cells are damaged or killed when certain receptors in the brain are overactivated. This is most often seen with the neurotransmitter glutamate.

Glutamate is critical for normal brain function. It sends signals between nerve cells and plays a role in learning and memory.

Overstimulation of brain cells by chronic, high levels of glutamate causes dysfunction and programmed cell death.29

Taurine protects against excitotoxicity by blocking and reducing the overstimulation caused by excess glutamate.3,18,30 Normally, cells die soon after they're exposed to high concentrations of glutamate. But when pre-treated with taurine, cells survive under these conditions.

This is a profound finding given how important excitotoxicity is in the development of many common brain disorders.

Brain-Damaging Beta-Amyloid

Man leaning head against a wall

Taurine's ability to defend against excitotoxicity and halt cell death makes it ideally suited to preventing age-related degeneration of the nervous system, including Alzheimer's and dementia.

Animal studies show that taurine also reduces 2 additional factors that contribute to cognitive decline and risk for dementia: the toxic effects of beta-amyloid accumulation and inflammation.30-32

In a study published in the journal Neuropharmacology, taurine protected rat brain cells from the toxicity normally induced by beta-amyloid deposits.30

At least some of this protective effect appears to be due to taurine's ability to directly bind to beta-amyloid. A study using a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease observed this amyloid-binding, which correlated with improvements in cognitive function on various tests.31

A rat model of cognitive decline also showed that taurine helped protect brain function, defending against oxidative stress, boosting neurotransmission, and reducing brain inflammation.32

Protection Against Dementia

Doctor pointing to a clipboard

All these studies showing taurine's protective effects suggest that supplementation with it could be a valuable preventive measure against Alzheimer's and dementia.

A group of researchers in South Korea explored the link between taurine and protection from dementia in the elderly.10 They estimated the past intake of taurine in 40 older individuals with dementia and compared it with that of 37 healthy people of the same age.

What they found was that elderly people with dementia had a significantly lower level of taurine intake than healthy subjects did when they were younger. The average intake of taurine in healthy subjects was approximately 18% higher than in those who developed dementia.10

This study also showed that the amount of taurine intake correlated with the degree of cognitive function. In other words, those who had the highest intake of taurine had the best scores on cognitive tests.10

In another study, on elderly women, 1,500 mg of taurine daily helped reduce inflammation, protect the health of the blood-brain barrier, and improve cognitive test scores over 14 weeks.33

These studies indicate that taurine supports healthy brain function and may protect against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Diminishing the Impact of Stroke

Man sitting in a thinking pose

Strokes can have devastating effects on cognition and brain function.

They can be generally divided into 2 major types: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.34

Ischemic stroke is more common, and occurs when blood flow is reduced or blocked to a part of the brain, leading to cell death and loss of function.34

In an animal model of ischemic stroke, supplemental taurine decreased the volume of brain damage caused by a stroke by about 55% compared to animals that did not receive treatment.9

Additionally, several markers of injury severity, including oxidative stress and energy production in the brain, were reduced in animals given supplemental taurine.

Hemorrhagic stroke refers to sudden, spontaneous bleeding into or around the brain. Although less common than ischemic stroke, it still affects many older individuals, particularly those with high blood pressure.34

A rat model of hemorrhagic stroke showed that taurine protects against the brain damage caused by this type of stroke as well.8 Rats given taurine had reduced loss of function with hemorrhage and suffered less brain swelling and inflammation.

Reducing Damage Due to Head Injury

Head injuries are difficult on elderly individuals. Trauma from falls or other accidents can cause significant loss of brain function.

Several preclinical studies have demonstrated that taurine improves the outcomes of these types of injuries.4-7,35

In one study, taurine prevented brain cell damage after experimental head injury in rats.7 The treated animals also experienced improvements in brain blood flow and enhanced mitochondrial function.

Several other animal studies have shown that taurine not only protects the brain from damage, but also improves function after a head injury.4-6

Reducing the Effects of Neurotoxins

Taurine may help protect the brain from neurotoxins that damage the nervous system.

One of the most common damaging compounds is glucose, especially at the high levels seen in diabetes. In animal models of diabetes, elevated blood sugar leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage in the brain.

In a recent study, experimental diabetes in rats caused all these harmful cellular changes in multiple areas of the brain.36 But treatment with taurine reduced all these effects.

Taurine also protected the brains of animals exposed to the toxic effects of several compounds, including arsenic, volatile gases, and other known neurotoxins.19-21

Summary

Taurine is an amino acid that is critical to healthy cellular function, particularly in highly active tissues like the brain.

Remarkably, taurine appears capable of boosting the creation of new brain cells at any age.

Taurine also protects against toxicity, oxidative stress, and inflammation. As a result, taurine may help prevent age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and injury from stroke and head trauma.

Only small amounts of taurine are produced in the body. By supplementing with taurine, you can help maintain optimal levels necessary for prolonging peak cognitive function into old age.

Fortunately, taurine is not a bulky amino acid, meaning that 1,000 mg can be obtained by taking just one capsule daily.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

References

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