Taurine has been touted as a powerful anti-aging nutrient lacking in plant-based foods. Does this mean that vegans are at risk of aging faster? Does a vegan diet lead to taurine deficiency? And are taurine supplements actually helpful?
As a registered dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition, I’ll dive into these questions, list the best vegan taurine sources, and discuss how vegans can get enough taurine in their diets.
RELATED: Do Vegans Age Faster?
What is taurine?
Taurine is classified as an amino sulfonic acid, a natural chemical produced by the human body. While structurally similar to an amino acid, taurine differs in that it isn’t used by the body to create proteins.
Taurine is conditionally essential, meaning that it’s only required in specific conditions. As adults, our bodies can make all the taurine we need. Babies, however, can’t do this and need to get it from breastmilk or fortified formulas.
What does taurine do?
Taurine is an intriguing nutrient, playing many different roles in the body. Some of these roles include:
- Antioxidant. Taurine helps reduce oxidative stress1 and damage in the body by acting as an antioxidant
- Neurotransmitter. Taurine binds to GABA receptors2 in the brain, acting as a central nervous system depressant and inducing feelings of calmness
- Healthy aging (potentially). Low levels of taurine in the blood have been observed with aging, and giving taurine to rodents, worms, and macaques extended their lifespan3. However, it isn’t clear whether supplemental taurine increases longevity in humans.
- Stabilizes cell membranes. Taurine helps nutrients travel across cell membranes and supports the activity of enzymes present in these membranes.
- May reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Taurine lowers blood pressure4 by dilating blood vessels, helps reduce cholesterol levels in the blood by binding to bile acids, and is used to treat congestive heart failure.
- May improve exercise performance. Taurine may help muscles contract more forcefully and may help the body burn fat for fuel more efficiently during endurance exercise, but research isn’t conclusive.
Interestingly, exercise (endurance exercise, specifically) might increase the amount of taurine5 in your body – another reason to stay active!
Vegan taurine sources
Vegan taurine sources are relatively limited since taurine is naturally present in animal flesh. Vegan-friendly options include:
1. The human body
The primary way that vegans obtain taurine is through its production in our own bodies. Taurine is produced in the pancreas from the amino acids cysteine and methionine, which we get from eating protein-rich foods. As long as you’re getting enough protein, your body will be able to produce taurine.
2. Red algae (seaweed)
Taurine is largely absent from plant-based foods, but a notable exception is red algae. We don’t often have access to fresh red algae in the United States, but vegan sushi fans have undoubtedly eaten it in its dried form, nori, which is used to wrap sushi rolls.
Red algae is also commonly available as dried dulse flakes, which can be added to soups or sprinkled on popcorn.
There isn’t much information on the taurine content of nori sheets, but a popular type of red algae consumed in Japan called susabinori was found to contain an impressive 1,950 milligrams per 100 grams6 dry weight. Fukurofunori, another type of red algae, had about 675 milligrams, and kabanori had just over 200 milligrams.
3. Taurine supplements
Although taurine is naturally found in animal flesh, the vast majority of taurine used in supplements is synthetic, making most of these supplements vegan-friendly.
Taurine supplements aren’t necessary for most people – even vegans. As a rule of thumb, dietary supplements are most helpful for people who are deficient in specific nutrients. There isn’t any high-quality evidence showing that vegans are deficient in taurine, likely because the body can produce it on its own.
Third-party-tested taurine supplements are likely safe to consume for most people but can interfere with blood pressure medications, so be sure to discuss them with your physician. Taurine supplements are often marketed as a way to extend your lifespan, but studies on this are almost exclusively limited to animals and haven’t been tested in humans.
Consuming up to 3 grams of taurine per day7 is considered safe. Still, I don’t recommend taking a taurine supplement long-term (unless prescribed by your physician) until more studies in humans have been conducted.
4. Energy drinks
Taurine is a common ingredient in energy drinks, although its role in them is a bit murky. Taurine acts as a nervous system depressant, making you feel calmer. It may be that taurine is added to energy drinks in order to balance out the “jitters” caused by caffeine and other stimulants used in these products.
Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t use energy drinks just to get more taurine. They can contain very high amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which may interfere with your sleep, lead to an elevated heart rate or high blood pressure, and may worsen anxiety. Some also contain high amounts of added sugars.
For reference, I’ve listed the taurine content of popular energy drinks8 below:
- Red Bull (8.4 fl oz can): 1000 mg
- Rockstar (16 fl oz can): 1000 mg
- 5-Hour Energy Shot (1.93 fl oz): 1000 mg
- Monster (16 fl oz can): 1000 mg
- Celsius: information not available; taurine is included on the nutrition facts label as part of a “proprietary blend”
5. Pre-workout supplements
Most pre-workout supplements contain caffeine or other stimulants in order to provide a boost of energy and focus during exercise, helping you work harder and get better results from training. Taurine is commonly added to these products for the same reason it’s added to energy drinks – to prevent the jitters that can occur with stimulants like caffeine.
It isn’t clear how effective taurine is for this purpose — it may just be marketing. All this to say, if you take pre-workout supplements you may be getting some taurine from them. As with energy drinks, I wouldn’t recommend taking more than one serving per day due to the negative side effects that can come from consuming too much caffeine.
Pre-workout supplements aren’t well regulated for safety and may contain unlabeled stimulants or other contaminants, so I recommend choosing one that is NSF Certified for Sport. This certification ensures that you’re buying a high-quality, safe product.
Taurine deficiency in vegans – is it a problem?
Taurine deficiency in vegans is a fair concern considering there are virtually no plant-based foods rich in taurine, apart from red algae. However, it seems that vegans produce all the taurine they need naturally.
From my research on the topic, there just isn’t much evidence to show that taurine supplements are necessary for vegans. One study in the British Journal of Nutrition9 found that although vegans had lower taurine levels in their urine than omnivores did, they only had slightly less taurine in their blood and breastmilk.
This may mean that vegans make enough taurine for the body to use without much leftover that would need to be excreted in urine, but more research is needed.
Taurine deficiency is most common in:
- Severely malnourished people with very low protein intakes
- Patients receiving long-term parenteral nutrition (nutrition through an IV)
- Chronic liver failure
- Heart failure
- End-stage renal disease
While taurine supplements can be attractive for their purported lifespan-enhancing benefits, at this point the scientific evidence doesn’t suggest that vegans need to (or should) take them.
Evidence is also unclear for exercise performance. While taurine is generally considered safe to consume in the amounts added to pre-workouts and energy drinks, it’s unclear how helpful it really is.
The best thing vegans can do to support healthy taurine levels is to consume a nutrient-dense diet rich in protein-containing plant foods like beans, tofu, tempeh, lentils, and whole grains. This will provide you with the amino acids required by the body to make your own taurine.
Feel free to add some nori or dulse flakes to your diet if you enjoy them!
RELATED: The 17 Best Vegan Sources of Lysine
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- Jong CJ, Sandal P, Schaffer SW. The Role of Taurine in Mitochondria Health: More Than Just an Antioxidant. Molecules. 2021;26(16):4913. Published 2021 Aug 13. doi:10.3390/molecules26164913
- Ochoa-de la Paz L, Zenteno E, Gulias-Cañizo R, Quiroz-Mercado H. Taurine and GABA neurotransmitter receptors, a relationship with therapeutic potential?. Expert Rev Neurother. 2019;19(4):289-291. doi:10.1080/14737175.2019.1593827
- McGaunn J, Baur JA. Taurine linked with healthy aging. Science. 2023;380(6649):1010-1011. doi:10.1126/science.adi3025
- Waldron M, Patterson SD, Tallent J, Jeffries O. The Effects of Oral Taurine on Resting Blood Pressure in Humans: a Meta-Analysis. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2018;20(9):81. Published 2018 Jul 13. doi:10.1007/s11906-018-0881-z
- Singh P, Gollapalli K, Mangiola S, et al. Taurine deficiency as a driver of aging. Science. 2023;380(6649):eabn9257. doi:10.1126/science.abn9257
- Kawasaki A, Ono A, Mizuta S, Kamiya M, Takenaga T, Murakami S. The Taurine Content of Japanese Seaweed. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;975 Pt 2:1105-1112. doi:10.1007/978-94-024-1079-2_88
- Shao A, Hathcock JN. Risk assessment for the amino acids taurine, L-glutamine and L-arginine. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2008;50(3):376-399. doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2008.01.004
- Peveler WW, Sanders GJ, Marczinski CA, Holmer B. Effects of Energy Drinks on Economy and Cardiovascular Measures. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(4):882-887. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001553
- Rana SK, Sanders TA. Taurine concentrations in the diet, plasma, urine and breast milk of vegans compared with omnivores. Br J Nutr. 1986;56(1):17-27. doi:10.1079/bjn19860082