Researchers at Japan’s giant telecom, NTT Docomo, recently created a smartphone ketone (acetone) reader that may help low carb and ketogenic dieters stay aware of how their food choices affect their nutritional ketosis. Currently, the best approach for doing this is quite expensive: serum ketone monitoring.
With ketone test strips running between $2-$5 USD a strip, measuring even once or twice a day with a device like the Abbot Laboratories Precision Xtra Glucose and Ketone Monitoring System can be a costly proposition. The alternative, of course, is cheaper but less meaningful ketostix that measure one type of ketone that is secreted in the urine, to varying degrees. (For additional background on ketosis and measuring ketones, see Why You Need To Stop Worrying About The Color Of Your Ketostix.)
But if the researchers at NTT Docomo have their way, the cruel economics of ketone testing may change for the better:
Acetone contained in our exhaled breath is a metabolic product of the breakdown of body fat and is expected to be a good indicator of fat-burning. Typically, gas chromatography or mass spectrometry are used to measure low-concentration compounds in breath but such large instruments are not suitable for daily use by diet-conscious people. Here, we prototype a portable breath acetone analyzer that has two types of semiconductor-based gas sensors with different sensitivity characteristics, enabling the acetone concentration to be calculated while taking into account the presence of ethanol, hydrogen, and humidity (source).
Finally, the prospect of ketone measurements that won’t break the bank. The paper is an interesting read. Mind you, while this is encouraging news, we’re a long way from having consumer devices available for us to use.
In fact, it may be that current vendors of serum ketone meters may already have such products in their closet, but are reluctant to release them because of the profits they derive from the sales of their proprietary test strips. Coverage of the NTT Docomo news in MIT Technology Review has a fascinating quote from Samar Kundu, a former researcher at Abbot Labs, that indicates he once created a breath ketone meter for them. And they never brought it to market:
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 prototype portable breath acetone analyzer for monitoring fat loss, Tsuguyoshi Toyooka et al 2013 Journal of Breath Research: 7 036005 doi:10.1088/1752-7155/7/3/036005
- A Breathalyzer That Knows When You’re Burning Fat, Susan Young. MIT Technology Review. August 8, 2013.
- Why You Need To Stop Worrying About The Color Of Your Ketostix, Michael O’Neill. Ketopia, September 9, 2012.