THURSDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- A new, portable
breathalyzer that pairs with a smartphone and Bluetooth can measure
how well you're burning body fat and help you gauge the success of
your diet and exercise program, according to a new report from
At this point, the device is only a prototype. It's
pocket-sized, about 4 inches long, and weighs about 4.5 ounces. It
operates on two AA batteries.
The device measures acetone, a metabolite produced from fat
burning. When you burn fat, acetone levels rise in the blood, but
are also exhaled. The new device is as reliable as a "gold
standard" test (such as gas chromatography) to measure acetone,
according to Satoshi Hiyama, senior research engineer at NTT
Docomo, a Japanese mobile communications company.
"We found that the concentrations of breath acetone obtained from our prototype and from conventional gas chromatography have a strong correlation throughout our experiments," Hiyama said.
The researchers tested the device in 17 healthy men and women,
reporting their findings online July 25 in the
Journal of Breath Research.
"Enabling users to monitor the state of fat burning could play a pivotal role in daily diet management," Hiyama said in a journal news release.
To operate the device, the user blows into it and the acetone
concentration levels are calculated and sent via Bluetooth or cable
to an Android-based smartphone. It takes about 10 seconds.
For the study, after people blew into the breathalyzer, they
also blew into a special collection bag that was measured with the
conventional chromatography method.
Hiyama and his team had assigned the participants to one of
three groups for the 14-day study. All were overweight by Japanese
standards. (Body mass index thresholds in Asian populations are
similar but not identical to U.S. standards, for example.)
One group carried on with their normal routine, with no
instructions to exercise or restrict calories.
A second group was required to take part in jogging or fast
walking from one half-hour to an hour a day. The third group did
the same exercise routine but also was instructed to restrict
Each day before breakfast, the men and women used a bath scale
to weigh themselves and measure body fat, then used the
Those in the first two groups did not lose substantial amounts
of weight -- their breath acetone levels were constant. The
researchers suggested that the exercise-only group members, allowed
to set their own pace, weren't working hard enough.
Those in the third group who followed instructions lost
substantial amounts of fat and their breath acetone levels
The researchers speculate that the device might also be used in
the prevention and treatment of diabetes. When diabetes is out of
control, acetone breath levels rise.
Hiyama could not say what the device might cost or how soon it
could be on the market.
"I think it's an interesting device," said Larry Birnbaum, a professor and chair of exercise physiology at the College of St. Scholastica, in Duluth, Minn., who reviewed the findings and has researched fat burning. He pointed out some limitations, including the small study size of 17 people.
One strength of the study, he said, is that the device results
were compared with those of a "gold standard" test. "They did
compare their device with gas chromatography and reported a strong
correlation," he noted.
"That is good," Birnbaum explained. But he added that validity would be enhanced if independent researchers repeated that comparison. The device also needs to be tested on a larger number of people with varying levels of acetone in their blood and breath, he said.
In the future, Birnbaum said, if the device research bears out,
it could provide people an additional piece of information. "It
might help people stick with a diet; it might help them modify
For more about weight loss and fat burning, visit the
American Council on Exercise.
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