Greek Scientist Develops New Sensor to Monitor Fat-Burning

FILE - In this June 26, 2012 file photo, two women converse in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

ZURICH – With the world in the grip of a global obesity epidemic, burning fat is a serious business. We all know the mantra ‘eat less and exercise more’ but until now it was hard to know exactly how much less and how much more was needed. When exactly does the body start burning fat so that we can start to slim down?

Until now it was impossible to tell without cumbersome and awkward blood tests; no longer. A handy new sensor developed by Greek scientist Sotiris Pratsinis and his colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich allows fat-burning to be monitored in real time as we exercise by measuring traces of acetone, a metabolic by-product of lipolysis, in our breath. Measurements are non-invasive and taken quickly and easily, simply by breathing into the device.

The findings were published in the scientific journal “Analytical Chemistry” and included some interesting insights about how we burn fat, showing that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to diet and exercise.

The new “breathalyzer”, with supercharged sensors capable of detecting a single molecule of acetone in hundreds of millions of other molecules, shows that we are all different when it comes to working off those extra calories. The trials showed great variation in how quickly people start to burn fat after they begin to exercise, with some needing an hour and a half before lipolysis kicks in, while others need just minutes.