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Dogs can smell low blood sugar in people with diabetes

Loren Grush's dog Jax

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered one more reason why dogs are great: their superior sense of smell is inspiring advancements in the medical field. In a study published today in Diabetes Care, the researchers determined that during a hypoglycemic attack in people with Type I diabetes, the amount of the naturally occurring chemical isoprene in a person's breath increases. And dogs can smell this chemical.

His nose is close to your mouth for a reason

In a preliminary study, the researchers gradually lowered the blood sugar levels of eight women with Type I diabetes, and analyzed the chemical makeup of the women's breath. They found that "exhaled breath isoprene rose significantly at hypoglycemia compared with nonhypoglycemia." (A hypoglycemic attack occurs when blood sugar decreases to dangerous levels).

Some people with diabetes already used trained service dogs to alert them when their blood sugar is low. In a press release, the University of Cambridge mentions how one woman's golden retriever (named Magic) will jump up and put his paws on her shoulders if her blood sugar is low. That's his signal that she's at risk for a hypoglycemic attack.

Now that scientists are a little more clear why dogs can recognize low blood sugar in humans, they're hoping the discovery can open up the possibility for new detection tools for diabetics. A breathalyzer or something similar that monitors isoprene levels could hypothetically mimic the function of a dog's nose. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as cute.


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