It is commonly known that the canine is Man’s Best Friend, but science is now saying that a dog in the home could be more useful than just for companionship. A new study says that the level of a chemical found in human breath could provide an accurate warning sign of low blood sugar levels, which is especially helpful for people who live with type 1 diabetes.
More importantly, the University of Cambridge study suggests that dogs can be trained to detect this chemical.
According to pediatric diabetes specialist nurse, Claire Pesterfield, “Low blood sugar is an everyday threat to me and if it falls too low — which it can do quickly — it can be very dangerous.” She goes on to discuss how her dog, Magic, had, in fact, been trained to detect when her blood sugar drops to dangerously low levels—and since then has alerted her to thousands of hypolglycemic episodes.
She goes on to say, “Magic is incredible — he’s not just a wonderful companion, but he’s my ‘nose’ to warn me if I’m at risk of a hypo. If he smells a hypo coming, he’ll jump up and put his paws on my shoulders to let me know.”
Fortunately for Pesterfield, most of these hypoglcymic episodes have been minor—but some of them occurred in her sleep, which means the result could have been much worse.
For the study, the researchers examined 8 women between the ages of 41 and 51, all of whom had type 1 diabetes and had been treated for the condition for at least 16 years. In controlled conditions, the researchers steadily, but slowly, lowered their blood sugar and then used mass spectrometry to search for the potential chemical that could be detected in breath.
Sure enough, they found that the a substance isoprene rises significantly during hypoglycemic episodes.
University of Cambridge Addenbrooke Hospital consultant physician Dr. Mark Evans further explains, “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. It provides a ‘scent’ that could help us develop new tests for detecting hypoglycemia and reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening complications for patients living with diabetes.”
The study has been published in the journal Diabetes Care