By Amir Khan
Managing blood sugar levels is key to living with diabetes, but constantly pricking your finger can be painful. Now, a new technology being presented at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists annual meeting may eliminate the need to test blood directly, opting instead to simply use your breath.
Researchers from Western New England University in Massachusetts created a breathalyzer that analyzes levels of acetone, which have been shown to correlate to blood sugar levels.
"Breathalyzers are a growing field of study because of their potential to have a significant positive impact on patients' quality of life and compliance with diabetes monitoring," Ronny Priefer, PhD, lead researcher with Western New England University, said in a statement. "What makes our technology different is that it only accounts for acetone and doesn't react with other components in the breath."
Diabetics frequently suffer from a condition known as ketoacidosis, in which the body produces large quantities of ketone bodies -- by-products of the breakdown of fatty acids that contain acetone. Insulin typically slows this production, but with a lack of the hormone in diabetics, the process can spiral out of control and leave a distinct smell on the breath.
"In people whose diabetes isn't under control, their body is going to be burning more fat," said Scott Drab, PharmD, a diabetes specialist and associate professor of pharmacy and therapeutics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy. "There's a set correlation between glucose levels and acetone levels. So as glucose levels rise, acetone levels do as well, which can be measured on their breath."
And while it may sound far-fetched, Raed Dweik, MD, a pulmonologist with the Cleveland Clinic, said that breath is a lot more complex than people think.
"All of our blood goes through the lungs," Dr. Dweik said. "Anything in our blood that can potentially be breathed out, we can detect in an exhale breath. We can detect things like cholesterol levels, stress and maybe even cancer, just by looking at what you exhale."
These compounds in the breath can come from things such as gut bacteria, diseases or even the environment, Dweik said, and aside from the standard breathalyzer that police administer, there are already other FDA-approved breath tests for certain conditions.
"About 10 years ago, the first analyzer was approved by the FDA for nitrous oxide," Dweik said. "This has become a standard use to test for allergies or asthma control."
It's unclear when, or if, the breath test for diabetes will be available, but Dr. Drab said that it could potentially help diabetics maintain stricter control of their blood sugar, which could lead to fewer complications.
"It's less invasive, because it doesn't require blood," he said. "It would definitely increase compliance. Many people don't like the idea of pricking themselves, so there could be a big use for this."
Dweik agreed, adding that he thinks that breath tests will become the new go-to diagnostic tool for doctors.
"The field in the next few years is going to explode with these new breath tests, because we have new technology to detect these biomarkers and new ways to utilize them," he said. "I think this acetone test will be a big one."
"Breath Test May Help Diabetics Better Control Blood Sugar" originally appeared on Everyday Health.