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Energy drinks are something that most adults choose to limit because there are a lot of weird effects they can have on your health. Drinking them excessively (or even just regularly) can lead to heart arrhythmias, headaches, high blood pressure and anxiety, according to health experts.
But there’s one common ingredient in energy drinks that might actually help us live longer. It’s an amino acid called taurine, and a new study from Columbia University suggests it could help with life expectancy. When consumed by mice, monkeys and worms in a high daily dose, it seemed to help push back certain signs of aging and even delay death. Boosting taurine levels in these animals showed an extended life of over 10%, plus it improved physical and brain health. It even improved memory in mice.
“There’s something here, and if it works in humans, it’s going to be a terrific thing,” said Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
Taurine isn’t just found in energy drinks. It can also be found in foods like shellfish, meat and in dairy in smaller amounts. But as we get older, it seems like our bodies carry less and less of it. In elderly people, taurine levels were 80% lower than in young people. Researchers involved in the study also looked at data from a population-level study in the UK and saw a correlation between higher levels of taurine and improved health.
“Taurine somehow seems to hit the engine room of aging,” says Henning Wackerhage, an exercise biology professor at Technische Universität München, who contributed to the study.
But they aren’t exactly sure yet how it works.
Because scientists don’t know for sure how taurine would affect humans in large daily doses or if it would reproduce those anti-aging effects, they don’t recommend going out and buying taurine supplements for your own experiments. (In fact, they specifically warn against guzzling energy drinks because of all the other stuff found in those that would negate any positive effects.) Human biology might stop taurine from working in the same ways, or there could be an evolutionary reason for levels to fall with age, so more studies are needed before we can really be sure how taurine may be able to improve human health and life expectancy.
But we’re all looking for those studies. It may be years before we have solid answers or guidance on using taurine for health, but it may just be a dietary breakthrough.