Sweat Produces Health Data, With Wearable Analyzing Device

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Athlete wiping off sweat via Shutterstock Athlete wiping off sweat via Shutterstock

As far as information goes, once our wrists only carried time. Then came music, and recently, heart rates. But now a team of University of California at Berkeley researchers has developed a wearable wrist device that seeks to tell us about the body's inner workings by "drinking" sweat from our wrists and analyzing it.

First and foremost, human sweat plays the critical role of temperature control in the body, cooling down our "engines" when we overheat. But for years scientists have also used sweat to gather useful health information. This new, sleeker device analyzes sweat for four abundant compounds -- glucose, lactate, sodium and potassium -- so that we can monitor these levels and make better health-based choices.

"The goal of this project was to develop a wearable technology to get some information about the physiological state of an individual," Ali Javey, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and lead researcher for the device, told Berkeley News. "Sweat is very complex, so we decided to target these four different chemicals."

The new device has five small sensors that provide chemical analysis. It then uses Bluetooth technology to send the data to a smartphone. Javey and his team hope to use this data in tracking many health issues, such as muscle fatigue, dehydration and the diabetes-linked glucose metabolism.

Glucose and lactate form when our bodies burn fuel through exercise, while sodium and potassium help our bodies retain a certain amount of water. Too much lactate leads to muscle fatigue, while low levels of electrolytes like potassium lead to dehydration.

We've seen similar sweat-gulping devices in the past. But these other gadgets were either too bulky for wear or measured only one variable at a time. This new device makes fast, long-term monitoring of multiple compounds possible.

"A medical technician could get a reading on somebody instantaneously and then follow that, instead of taking a blood sample and then sending it to a laboratory and waiting several hours for results," George Brooks, professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, also told Berkeley News.

"It's the beginning, I think, of a great new realm in biosensing," he added. "Not only for personal use but for astronauts, people who need to be monitored for this or that condition real-time."

While the new wrist device has revolutionized sweat-sensing technology, it must crawl before taking its first baby steps. Gaps separating the sensors from the skin could form, and the wearer must keep sweating for the device to work. More research should solve these and other issues.

Still, with youth diabetes growing at an alarming rate, this device marks a great leap in a field necessary to human health. So, keep your sleeves rolled up and your sweat rolling out until further notice.