A deficiency in a molecule known as taurine may speed up the ageing process, scientists believe.
Researchers who analysed the amino acid in mice and monkeys found the supplements can slow down ageing.
For the study, the team of international researchers looked at blood samples and measured the taurine concentrations at different ages in mice, monkeys, and humans.
Nearly 250 female and male mice aged around 14 months – the equivalent of about 45 years of age in human terms – were used in the study. Researchers gave half of them a taurine supplement and the other half a control solution.
The lifespan of the mice who consumed the supplements increased by an average of 12% in females and 10% in males.
The researchers said this translates to three to four extra months for mice, equivalent to about seven or eight human years.
Taurine – which is often found in meat, fish, eggs and in some energy drinks – supports immune health and nervous system function.
The study also revealed a daily intake of 500 and 1000 milligrams of taurine supplement per kg of body weight was also associated with improvements in strength, coordination, and cognitive functions in rodents.
Vijay Yadav, study leader at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, we also found that they’re living healthier lives.”
The effects of taurine supplements were also tested on middle-aged monkeys.
The monkeys took the supplements every day for six months and showed improvements in their immune systems, bone density and overall metabolic health.
A study on humans
To understand things on a human scale, the researchers also looked at data from a study involving 12,000 adults aged 60 and over from Europe.
They found that people with higher taurine levels were much healthier.
With fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower obesity levels, and lower levels of inflammation.
Professor Yadav said: “These are associations, which do not establish causation but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human ageing.”
Researchers also measured taurine levels in male athletes and people who took part in a strenuous cycling workout before and after the activity.
The team said a “significant increase” in taurine levels was seen in both athletes – such as sprinters and endurance runners – and people that took part in cycling.
“No matter the individual, all had increased taurine levels after exercise, which suggests that some of the health benefits of exercise may come from an increase in taurine,” Professor Yadav added.
The team said taurine might be a promising anti-ageing strategy.
Professor Yadav said: “Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-ageing strategy.”
He added: “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.”
The study was published in the journal Science.