Glucuronolactone is a small molecule that contributes to the structure of connective tissues. It is an important precursor of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) synthesis and detoxicant. Glucuronolactone combines with toxic substances and converts them into water-soluble conjugates that can be excreted in urine. It may have hepatoprotective effects in this capacity.
Glucuronolactone is commonly used in energy drinks due to its detoxification effects. Combining glucuronolactone with other substances such as caffeine can improve performance, particularly on tasks that require large amounts of focus and attention.1
Glucuronolactone is approved as a dietary supplement component under provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.
There are no major side effects if taken in safe quantities (under 1000mg/kg/day).2
Glucuronolactone has been studied widely in the context of energy drinks, as it is a popular ingredient.3
In a study involving 36 college students, it was found that consumption of the Red Bull energy drink (taurine, glucuronolactone and caffeine), did not result in improved attention. Attention was measured by visual attention parameters and reaction times. Visual attention and reaction time were measured with the Conners Continous Performance Test II (CPT).4
One study in 36 participants evaluated the effects of Red Bull energy drink (taurine, glucuronolactone and caffeine) on athletic and cognitive performance. It was shown that ingestion of Red Bull led to significant improvements in attention as measured by choice reaction time and concentration in the number cancellation task. There were also subjective improvements in alertness as measured by subject-provided feeback.5
Attention in driving tasks has been examined in several studies. Research has shown that consumption of energy drinks containing glucuronolactone improves reaction time in driving tasks. A study of 11 participants with sleep depriviation showed improvements in reaction time after ingestion of glucuronolactone-containing energy drink.6
A study evaluating the effect of Red Bull energy drink on driving showed that consumption of Red Bull resulted in improved driving quality, less variation in speed, and reduced mental effort from the driving task in healthy volunteers.7
In healthy but sleep-deprived volunteers, consumption of Red Bull enhanced performance in a two-hour continuous driving task. The participants that consumed the Red Bull energy drink exhibited significantly reduced sleep-related driving incidents and subjective sleepiness for the first 90 min of the drive. EEG analysis of those participants also exhibited less sleepiness compared to placebo in the period of time they were engaged in the driving task.8
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study using 10 graduate students evaluated the effects of Red Bull on cognition and mood. It was found that those subjects that consumed Red Bull exhibited faster motor reaction time compared to placebo. Furthermore, P300 brain waves in these participants were consistent with faster reaction time. These brain waves are often used as a clinical marker for attention engagement and decision-making.9
One study in 36 participants evaluated the effects of Red Bull energy drink (taurine, glucuronolactone and caffeine), on athletic and cognitive performance. It was shown that ingestion of Red Bull led to significant improvements in memory, as measured by the immediate recall task.5
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study using ten graduate students evaluated the effects of Red Bull on cognition and mood. It was found that participants who consumed Red Bull exhibited higher scores for extraversion in a subjective test for feelings of well-being.9
There have been a number of studies measuring the effect of glucuronolactone on diseases.
A study in rats found that glucuronolactone was effective in reversing oxidative stress typically found in liver fibrosis. In this study, the researchers showed that supplementation of diet with 75 mg/kg of bodyweight glucuronolactone lowered the values of AST (aspartate transaminase, a marker for hepatic injury) in rats. The liver injury was induced by thioacetamide.10
One study evaluated the effect of energy drink consumption on platelet and endothelial function in young adults. This is clinically important because energy drink consumption has been anecdotally linked with sudden cardiac death and myocardial infarction. Fifty healthy male volunteers with an average age of 34 years were enrolled in the study, and they consumed 1 unit of Red Bull. Platelet and endothelial function were measured 1 hour afterwards. It was found that the Red Bull consumption led to increased platelet aggregation (as measured by adenosine diphosphate-induced optical aggregometry in platelet-rich plasma) as well as worsened endothelial function (as measured by the reactive hyperemia index).11
A study involving 25 young, healthy, non-obese individuals found that Red Bull consumption led to increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, associated with increased heart rate and cardiac output. There were no changes in total peripheral resistance and there was no diminished endothelial response to acetylcholine. Furthermore, there were significant increases in cerebrovascular resistance and breathing frequency with Red Bull consumption compared to control. Finally, there were decreases in cerebral blood flow velocity and end-tidal carbon dioxide.12
Glucuronolactone is made naturally in the liver. Furthermore, glucuronolactone is naturally found in plant gums. Additionally, it is found commonly in energy drinks.13See table below for common ingredients of energy drinks.
Glucuronolactone converts to glucuronic acid and back in the human body. In a normal equilibrium state, there is about an equal amount of each molecule. Functionally, they are interchangeable. Glucuronic acid is an integral part of the pentose phosphate pathway, which is involved in fatty acid synthesis, nucleotide synthesis and amino acid synthesis.14Thus, it is an important molecule for general health. While the effects of energy drinks on cognition have been studied, the molecular physiology of glucuronolactone alone on cognition has not been widely studied, and the exact mechanism of action is not clear.
BAKER, E. M., BIERMAN, E. L., & PLOUGH, I. C. (1960). Effect of D-glucuronic acid and D-glucuronolactone on ascorbic acid levels in blood and urine of man and dog. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 8(3), 369-373.
Aguilar, F., Charrondiere, U. R., Dusemund, B., Galtier, P., Gilbert, J., Gott, D. M., ... & Lambre, C. (2009). The use of taurine and D-glucurono-gamma-lactone as constituents of the so-called ��__�___energy��__�_� drinks. EFSA J, 935, 1-31.
Gendle, M. H., Smucker, D. M., Stafstrom, J. A., Helterbran, M. C., & Glazer, K. S. (2009). Attention and Reaction Time in University Students Following the Consumption of Red Bull��__��_. Open Nutr J, 3, 8-10.
Mets, M. A., Ketzer, S., Blom, C., Van Gerven, M. H., Van Willigenburg, G. M., Olivier, B., & Verster, J. C. (2011). Positive effects of Red Bull Energy Drink on driving performance during prolonged driving. Psychopharmacology, 214(3), 737-745.
Chen, P. J., Chiu, C. H., Tseng, J. K., Yang, K. T., & Chen, Y. C. (2015). Ameliorative effects of D-glucuronolactone on oxidative stress and inflammatory/fibrogenic responses in livers of thioacetamide-treated rats. Journal of Functional Foods, 14, 154-162.
Worthley, M. I., Prabhu, A., De Sciscio, P., Schultz, C., Sanders, P., & Willoughby, S. R. (2010). Detrimental effects of energy drink consumption on platelet and endothelial function. The American journal of medicine, 123(2), 184-187.
Grasser, E. K., Yepuri, G., Dulloo, A. G., & Montani, J. P. (2014). Cardio-and cerebrovascular responses to the energy drink Red Bull in young adults: a randomized cross-over study. European journal of nutrition, 53(7), 1561-1571.