Many people question whether or not energy drinks are vegan and, whilst there are other reasons why individuals are unsure, often they are most confused by one ingredient in particular: taurine. Taurine is one of the most common “active” ingredients in energy drinks but it is actually used in a wide range of products.
We are most familiar with taurine in Red Bull, Monster and the like, but it is also frequently used in cosmetics, taken as a dietary supplement for a range of medical purposes and has even been used in some contact lens solutions. So, given that it is fairly widespread across a number aspects of modern living, we thought it was useful to explain what taurine is, and more importantly, to answer the question is taurine vegan?
What Is Taurine?
Internet rumours, fake news and giggling school children may well insist that some energy drinks contain the sperm or urine from bulls, or some other sort of strange bovine-testicle-extract. Quite simply, this is a load of bull and not at all true. Taurine is often called an amino acid but is technically a sulfonic acid and is naturally occurring in many animals, both mammals and fish.
Its name (it comes from the Latin taurus, meaning bull, cow or ox) and its perceived link to cows is because when it was first isolated (effectively when it was first “created” in its pure form), it was taken from ox bile. However, there is no intrinsic link to cow’s bulls or any animal, and taurine can be taken from most animals. It is typically most abundant in the heart and brain and this connection with offal may further boost the erroneous link with bodily fluids.
Whilst taurine was initially “created” using animal products, it is now usually created synthetically in laboratories without the use of animals. Various complex processes convert other non-organic substances into taurine and this process can be done so cheaply that almost all energy drinks now use non-animal taurine.
However, when it comes to the taurine used in other products, things are far less clear cut. Taurine is a relatively new addition to some anti-aging creams and many of these are not expressly marketed as vegan. Some sources claim that most taurine used in mass-produced make-ups, moisturisers, shampoos and other products is synthetic. However, we cannot verify this.
To make things slightly more complex, there are now some taurine products that use plant-based taurine. It is possible to extract taurine from certain types of algae and seaweed and many cosmetics, seeking to position themselves as natural, vegan-friendly products, are likely to use this.
So, Is Taurine Vegan?
Taurine in and of itself is vegan and is simply an acid. However, in its natural state, it is primarily, though not exclusively, found in animals. When it is added to products it may have been taken from animals or plant sources, or indeed synthesised in a lab.
Obviously taurine from animals is not vegan, whilst the latter two methods of producing it will be. When it comes to energy drinks you can be confident that all the main brands and quite probably all the lesser ones too are using vegan-friendly taurine. For other products, we would recommend contacting the manufacturer if you want to be 100% certain, unless the product is certified as vegan or is part of a vegan brand.
Should Vegans Take Taurine Supplements?
Having said that taurine is mainly found in meat and fish, it is worth considering whether or not vegans should consider taking taurine supplements. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that vegans’ taurine levels were much lower than those of meat-eaters.
However, whilst taurine is often listed as an amino acid, as said, it is not, and certainly not an essential one. There is no recommended intake level for taurine and there is no real evidence for the majority of claims made about it. Taurine has been linked to a range of health issues, from diabetes and fatigue, to infant development and cystic fibrosis (plus lots more besides) but there is no science-based reason for believing taurine supplements would help vegans – or anyone else – with any of these issues.
Other Ways to Get Taurine
Taurine is needed by the body, to help perform a whole host of functions, including central nervous system neuromodulation, cardiovascular function and the conjugation of bile acid. However, the human body can synthesise taurine from methionine and cysteine, using vitamin B6.
Most nuts and beans are high in the former, whilst cysteine can also be garnered from those foods, plus seeds, oats, legumes and most wholegrains. As such, most vegans eating a balanced diet are highly unlikely to require taurine supplements.