According to a new study, dogs are resourceful helpers when it comes to patients with Type-1 diabetes. Researchers in England have discovered their keen sense of smell can detect low blood sugar levels that usually precede a hypoglycemic episode.
The report explained that dogs could be taught to smell the human breath and identify if there are unusually high levels of a chemical that is exhaled prior to a hypoglycemic episode. Using the dogs’ smell could help prevent diabetic patients from experiencing potentially dangerous health complications.
Type-1 diabetes is caused by the body’s incapacity of producing insulin; people diagnosed with this condition are required to prick their finger several times a day to test their blood sugar levels.
When sugar in the blood flow is too low, an episode of hypoglycemia installs. The problem is, these fits often occur without warning, explained the researchers, inducing disorientation, shakiness, and fatigue. In the case of longer hypoglycemia episodes, the patient can also experience seizures or even unconsciousness.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge started testing for this chemical change in the patient’s breath based on several reports of dogs accurately warning their owners of changes in blood glucose.
For the study, which was recently featured in the journal Diabetes Care, a team of British researchers evaluated eight women diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. Aged 41 to 51, the participants had been previously treated for diabetes for 16 years or more.
Scientists found that lowering the women’s blood sugar – in supervised conditions – was causing the chemical isoprene to raise significantly, sometimes even double the amount. The team used an instrument called mass spectrometry to detect the changes in breath chemicals triggered by varying blood sugar levels.
Next step was testing the dogs’ ability to sniff the chemical – which is undetectable for humans.
“Humans aren’t sensitive to the presence of isoprene, but dogs with their incredible sense of smell, find it easy to identify and can be trained to alert their owners about dangerously low blood sugar levels,” explained Dr. Mark Evans, a physician at the University of Cambridge;s Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
The discovery could prompt the developing of new methods for detecting hypoglycemia, which in turn would lower the risk of health complications for diabetes patients.
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