The components of our exhaled breath are more complex than just carbon dioxide, containing a variety of biomarkers that can help screen for a number of diseases. One widely known one, acetone, is an indirect indicator of blood glucose levels, with the potential of heralding non-invasive, prick free glucose testing for diabetes. But, acetone is also tied to fat burning, so being able to accurately measure acetone in exhaled breath can provide an indicator of how fast fat is being metabolized by the body.
Researchers at NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s largest mobile phone company, have developed a portable acetone sensor that is capable of detecting acetone down to 0.2 parts per million and using only a couple AA batteries to operate. It can connect to a tablet or smartphone over Bluetooth or an old-fashioned cable, allowing readings to be dropped off and stored for historical analysis. The real challenge of using this technology to monitor the benefits of exercise is figuring out the relationship between detected acetone and how much fat was burned.
From a press release from the Institute of Physics:
In their study, the researchers recruited 17 healthy adult volunteers (11 men and six women), whose body mass indexes (BMIs) were above the Japanese standard, to test the device.
The volunteers were split into three groups, the first of which carried on with their normal life and were not restricted to a specific numbers of calories in their diet and not required to take part in exercise.
The second group were required to take part in light exercise, such as jogging or fast walking, for 30-60 minutes a day and the final group were required to take part in the same exercise routine and also consume a limited number of calories in their diet each day.
The experiment lasted 14 days and on each day before breakfast, the volunteers were required to measure their body weight, body fat percentage and breath acetone concentrations using the portable device and a standard instrument for comparison.
Results showed that the volunteers in the first two groups – those leading a normal life and those performing daily exercise – were not able to lose significant amounts of fat. Their breath acetone concentrations also remained constant.
The volunteers in the third group who followed the exercise regime and had their calorific intake restricted were able to lose significant amounts of fat and their breath acetone concentrations were increased significantly.
Article in Journal of Breath Research: A prototype portable breath acetone analyzer for monitoring fat loss
Institute of Physics: Pocket-sized sensor gives instant fat burning updates