TECH in AMERICA (TiA)

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A Breathalyzer That Knows When You’re Burning Fat

by Susan Young, courtesy TechnologyReview  –

The portable prototype that detects if you're burning fat by analyzing your breath (Photo: NTT DOCOMO)

The portable prototype that detects if you’re burning fat by analyzing your breath (Photo: NTT DOCOMO)

People trying to lose weight  may not always be able to tell whether a new diet  or exercise regime is having the hoped-for fat-burning effects. Researchers at  Japan’s NTT Docomo, the  country’s largest mobile-phone provider, may have a solution—a smartphone-connected  device that measures acetone in the breath as a sign of fat-burning.

The exhaled breath of people who are burning fat contains comparatively  high levels of the gas acetone. That’s because when fatty acids are broken  down, one of the end products is acetone, which is released into the blood and  through the lungs in breath. By monitoring acetone concentration, dieters could  get a more accurate sense of whether their efforts are working.

“Enabling users to monitor the state of fat-burning could  play a pivotal role in daily diet management,” says NTT Docomo’s Tsuguyoshi  Toyooka. Current methods of monitoring fat burn are not practical for home or  outdoor use, says Toyooka. The portable device could help dieters adjust the  conditions of their caloric intake and exercise load to maximize weight loss.

In a study published in the Journal of Breath Research in July, Toyooka and colleagues report a  palm-sized device that uses two types of semiconductor-based gas sensors to  measure acetone in breath. The device hooks up to a smartphone through a wire  or Bluetooth and gives users an answer to their (fat) burning question in 10  seconds.

The researchers tested the device in 17 overweight adults. Over  two weeks, around a third of the volunteers took on light daily exercise,  another third exercised a similar amount but also limited their calorie intake,  and the final third made no change to their lifestyle. Each day before  breakfast, the volunteers measured their breat- acetone concentrations using  the Docomo device and compared the results with those taken on a standard gas  chromatograph.

The researchers also measured body weight and body fat in  the volunteers over the course of the experiment. They found that volunteers  who made no change to their lifestyle or who only engaged in light exercise  were not able to lose significant amounts of fat–and these participants’ breath-acetone  concentrations did not change.

But the concentration of breath acetone did increase in the  volunteers who both added exercise and reduced their calorie intake. These  volunteers lost body fat over the two weeks.

If the device  is one day manufactured and sold, it would be quite useful for people trying to  lose weight, says Samar Kundu, a senior scientist at Sword Diagnostics, a medical device maker. Kundu previously developed a  breath-acetone detecting device when he worked for another device maker, Abbot Labs.  The company did not commercialize the invention for various reasons, but Kundu  and his colleagues demonstrated the correlation between the breath component  and fat loss, which he says is much more predictive for diet success than other  measurements. “A scale does not provide a very good prediction of how you are  doing, and body-fat measurement is not that accurate,” he says. “Breath acetone  is much more predictive that you are burning fat,” says Kundu.

In addition  to helping dieters know whether or not their hard work is effecting change, a  portable breath-acetone analyzer could be useful for diabetics, says Toyooka. Breath-acetone  concentrations can be much higher in people with diabetes than in others  because their cells cannot take up glucose from the blood. Their bodies instead  burn fat for energy, causing the fruity breath odor that can be a telltale sign  of the condition. A device like Docomo’s prototype could give diabetes patients  a convenient way to check in on how well they are managing the disease. “Uncontrolled  diabetes [causes] elevated levels of breath acetone, and thus our prototype could  be used to see whether diabetic control is going well or not,” says Toyooka.

Thank you, TiA

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This entry was posted on August 8, 2013 by in APPS, INNOVATION and tagged , , , , , , , .

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