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Could taurine be the elixir of life?

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Taurine – a nutrient produced in the body and found in many foods – could be an “elixir of life” that boosts health and helps us live longer, a leading scientist says.

A deficiency of taurine is a driver of ageing in animals. But experiments on middle-aged animals conducted as part of a study led by Columbia University researchers in the United States and published in the journal Science, have shown that boosting taurine levels can slow down the ageing process.

In one case, it was found to extend the healthy lifespan of middle-aged mice by up to 12%.

Whilst topping up taurine levels in humans has not yet been tested, the study’s lead, Vijay Yadav, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “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.”

Human life expectancy has doubled in the last 200 years. Since the start of the 21st Century, life expectancy has risen by more than six years globally from 66.8 years to 73.4, according to the World Health Organisation.

CREDIT: Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Over the last two decades, efforts to identify interventions that improve health in old age have intensified and scientists have learned that the ageing process can be manipulated.

Many studies have found that various molecules carried through the bloodstream are associated with ageing. Less certain is whether these molecules actively direct the ageing process or are just passengers going along for the ride.

If a molecule is a driver of ageing, then restoring its youthful levels would delay the process of growing old and increase the years we spend in good health.

Taurine – which is a free amino acid found naturally in foods with protein such as meat, dairy and fish, can be bought as a supplement, and is widely used in energy drinks – first came into Dr Yadav’s view during his previous research into osteoporosis that uncovered the nutrient’s role in building bone.

Around the same time, other researchers were finding that taurine levels correlated with immune and nervous system functions, and obesity.

Dr Yadav said: “We realised that if taurine is regulating all these processes that decline with age, maybe taurine levels in the bloodstream affect overall health and lifespan.”

First, Dr Yadav’s team looked at levels of taurine in the bloodstream of mice, monkeys, and people and found its abundance decreases substantially with age. In people, taurine levels in 60-year-old individuals were only about one-third of those found in five-year-olds.

“That’s when we started to ask if taurine deficiency is a driver of the ageing process, and we set up a large experiment with mice,” Dr Yadav explained.

The researchers started with close to 250 14-month-old female and male mice (about 45 years old in human terms).

Dr Vijay Yadav holding a model of the chemical structure of taurine. Image Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Every day, the researcher fed half of them a bolus of taurine or a control solution. At the end of the experiment, Dr Yadav and his team found that taurine increased average lifespan by 12% in female mice and 10% in males.

For the mice, that meant three to four extra months, equivalent to about seven or eight human years.

To learn how the nutrient impacted health, Dr Yadav brought in other researchers who investigated the effect of taurine supplementation on the health and lifespan in several species.

They measured various health parameters in mice and found that at age two (60 in human years), animals supplemented with taurine for one year were healthier in almost every way than their untreated counterparts.

Among the benefits identified, taurine suppressed age-associated weight gain in female mice (even in ‘menopausal’ rodents ), increased energy expenditure and bone mass, improved muscle endurance and strength, reduced depression-like and anxious behaviours, as well as insulin resistance, and promoted a younger-looking immune system.

Dr Yadav said: “Not only did we find that the animals lived longer, we also found that they’re living healthier lives.”

At a cellular level, taurine also improved many functions that usually decline with age, such as DNA damage and the ability of tissue to heal following an injury.

Similar positive health effects were seen in middle-aged rhesus monkeys, which were given daily taurine supplements for six months.

Taurine prevented weight gain, reduced fasting blood glucose and markers of liver damage, increased bone density in the spine and legs, and improved the health of their immune systems.

The researchers do not know yet if taurine supplements will improve health or increase longevity in humans, but two experiments they conducted suggest it has potential.

In the first, Dr Yadav and his team looked at the relationship between taurine levels and approximately 50 health parameters in 12,000 European adults aged 60-plus.

Overall, people with higher taurine levels were healthier, with fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, lower rates of obesity, and reduced hypertension and inflammation.

“These are associations, which do not establish causation,” Dr Yadav admitted, “but the results are consistent with the possibility that taurine deficiency contributes to human ageing.”

The second study tested if taurine levels would respond to an intervention known to improve health: exercise.

The researchers measured taurine levels before and after a variety of male athletes and sedentary individuals finished a strenuous cycling workout. They found a significant increase in taurine among all groups of athletes (sprinters, endurance runners, and natural bodybuilders) and sedentary individuals.

Dr Yadav said: “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.”

Only a randomised clinical trial in people will determine if taurine truly has health benefits, Dr Yadav added.

Taurine trials are currently underway for obesity, but none are designed to measure a wide range of health parameters.

Other potential anti-ageing drugs – including metformin, rapamycin, and NAD analogs – are being considered for testing in clinical trials.

“I think taurine should also be considered,” Dr Yadav said. “And it has some advantages. Taurine is naturally produced in our bodies, it can be obtained naturally in the diet, it has no known toxic effects, although it’s rarely used in concentrations, and it can be boosted by exercise.

“Taurine abundance goes down with age, so restoring taurine to a youthful level in old age may be a promising anti-ageing strategy.”

 

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Air pollution linked to increased hospital admission for heart and lung diseases

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Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution is linked to an increased risk of hospital admission for major heart and lung diseases, find two large US studies, published by The BMJ.

Together, the results suggest that no safe threshold exists for heart and lung health.

According to the Global Burden of Disease study, exposure to PM2.5 accounts for an estimated 7.6% of total global mortality and 4.2% of global disability adjusted life years (a measure of years lived in good health).

In light of this extensive evidence, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated the air quality guidelines in 2021, recommending that an annual average PM2.5 levels should not exceed 5 μg/m3 and 24 hour average PM2.5 levels should not exceed 15 μg/m3 on more than 3-4 days each year.

In the first study, researchers linked average daily PM2.5 levels to residential zip codes for nearly 60 million US adults (84 per cent white, 55 per cent women) aged 65 and over from 2000 to 2016. They then used Medicare insurance data to track hospital admissions over an average of eight years.

After accounting for a range of economic, health and social factors, average PM2.5 exposure over three years was associated with increased risks of first hospital admissions for seven major types of cardiovascular disease – ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, valvular heart disease, and thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Compared with exposures of 5 μg/m3 or less (the WHO air quality guideline for annual PM2.5), exposures between 9 and 10 μg/m3, which encompassed the US national average of 9.7 μg/m3 during the study period, were associated with a 29% increased risk of hospital admission for cardiovascular disease.

On an absolute scale, the risk of hospital admission for cardiovascular disease increased from 2.59% with exposures of 5 μg/m3 or less to 3.35% at exposures between 9 and 10 μg/m3.

“This means that if we were able to manage to reduce annual PM2.5 below 5 µg/m3, we could avoid 23% in hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease,” say the researchers.*

These cardiovascular effects persisted for at least three years after exposure to PM2.5, and susceptibility varied by age, education, access to healthcare services, and area deprivation level.

The researchers say their findings suggest that no safe threshold exists for the chronic effect of PM2.5 on overall cardiovascular health, and that substantial benefits could be attained through adherence to the WHO air quality guideline.

“On February 7, 2024, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated the national air quality standard for annual PM2.5 level, setting a stricter limit at no more than 9 µg/m3. This is the first update since 2012. However, it is still considerably higher than the 5 µg/m3 set by WHO. Obviously, the newly published national standard was not sufficient for the protection of public health,” they add.*

In the second study, researchers used county-level daily PM2.5 concentrations and medical claims data to track hospital admissions and emergency department visits for natural causes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease for 50 million US adults aged 18 and over from 2010 to 2016.

During the study period, more than 10 million hospital admissions and 24 million emergency department visits were recorded.

They found that short term exposure to PM2.5, even at concentrations below the new WHO air quality guideline limit, was statistically significantly associated with higher rates of hospital admissions for natural causes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease, as well as emergency department visits for respiratory disease.

For example, on days when daily PM2.5 levels were below the new WHO air quality guideline limit of 15 μg/m3, an increase of 10 μg/m3 in PM2.5 was associated with 1.87 extra hospital admissions per million adults aged 18 and over per day.

The researchers say their findings constitute an important contribution to the debate about the revision of air quality limits, guidelines, and standards.

Both research teams acknowledge several limitations such as possible misclassification of exposure and point out that other unmeasured factors may have affected their results. What’s more, the findings may not apply to individuals without medical insurance, children and adolescents, and those living outside the US.

However, taken together, these new results provide valuable reference for future national air pollution standards.

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Home health care linked to increased hospice use at end-of-life – study

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Patients who had previously received home health care had a higher likelihood of accessing hospice care at the end of their life, according to a new study.

Researchers, whose findings are published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, examined the home health care and hospice care experiences of more than two million people.

Using Medicare data, researchers found when individuals received home health care before the last year of their life, they had higher odds of using hospice care than those who had never received home health care.

Researchers said this association underscores the potential benefits of receiving end-of-life care in the comfort of one’s home.

As the aged population increases, the findings also show the need for more resources in the health care sector and staff training in end-of-life care.

Home health care services including skilled nursing, therapy, social work and aide services are used to maintain functioning or slow decline in health. Hospice care provides similar services but is intended for those with life expectancies of six months or less and is focused on pain relief, minimising hospital visits and providing comfort and support. Both services provide patients the opportunity to receive more personalised care in their home.

Researchers say home-based care also encourages greater involvement of family caregivers in the caregiving process.

Olga Jarrín, senior author of the study, the Hunterdon Professor of Nursing Research at the Rutgers School of Nursing and director of the Community Health and Aging Outcomes Laboratory within the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, commented: “In addition to benefits for the patient, hospice care also provides resources and support to help family caregivers cope with the physical, emotional and practical challenges of caring for a loved one at the end of life.”

Hyosin (Dawn) Kim, research assistant professor at Oregon State University and first author of the study, added: “By providing personalised care, reducing hospitalisations, fostering family involvement and support, and improving symptom management, home-based care can enhance the quality of end-of-life experiences for patients with terminal illnesses and their families.”

 

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Sleep programme shows promise in those with memory problems – study

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A new study has shown promising results in improving sleep and quality of life in individuals living with memory problems.

A group of researchers from Penn Nursing, Penn Medicine, Rutgers School of Nursing, and Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, have delved into the efficacy of a non-pharmacological approach in a trial known as the Healthy Patterns Sleep Program.

The study involved 209 pairings of community-residing individuals with memory problems and their care partners. Participants were assigned to either the Healthy Patterns Sleep Program, which consisted of one-hour home activity sessions administered over four weeks, or a control group that received sleep hygiene training, plus education on home safety and health promotion.

The Healthy Patterns Sleep Program trained care partners in timed daily activities such as reminiscence in the morning, exercise in the afternoon and sensory activities in the evening that can decrease daytime sleepiness and improve nighttime sleep quality.

Nancy Hodgson, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Claire M. Fagin Leadership Professor in Nursing and Chair of Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences, who led the study, said: “The results from this study provide fundamental new knowledge regarding the effects of timing activity participation and can lead to structured, replicable treatment protocols to address sleep disturbances. Overall, the Healthy Patterns program resulted in improved QOL compared to an attention-control group.”

The findings also indicate that, compared to a control group, the four-week Healthy Patterns program improved sleep quality among persons living with memory issues who had depressive symptoms or poor sleep quality.  The study indicates the Healthy Patterns Intervention might need a longer dose to induce improvements in other sleep-wake activity metrics.

The study’s significance lies in its confirmation of the effectiveness of behavioural interventions in not only improving quality of life and addressing sleep quality issues in this population, but also potentially reducing care partner burden and overall care costs for persons living at home with memory problems.

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