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A Breathalyzer That Knows When You’re Burning Fat

Thu, 08/08/2013 - 12:00am
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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.

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