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“Don’t sweat it!” has long been a method of telling someone not to worry or be upset. Often called perspiration, sweat is a clear, salty liquid produced by glands in your skin. As sweat evaporates, it enables your body to cool itself and prevent it from overheating. But wait, there is much more about sweat.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed flexible sensors which can be attached to the skin as shown above and track your level of vitamin C. The first question is why is it important to track vitamin C? The second question is what does sweat have to do with this and how does the new technology work? I will do my best to explain answers to both questions.

Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin naturally present in some foods, and available as a dietary supplement. Unlike most animals, humans are unable to synthesize vitamin C on their own, so we have to get it through our diet or supplements.  Vitamin C is helpful for patients recovering from an infection. As an antioxidant, the vitamin may have potential in treating heart disease and cancer.

A timely aspect of vitamin C is the essential role it plays in helping us maintain a healthy immune system. Researchers believe vitamin C may have potential as a therapeutic for Covid-19. High doses of vitamin C have been linked to reduced death rates in sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome, both of which can be present in patients with COVID-19.  

For patients who need close monitoring of vitamin C, there are numerous methods. The most reliable is a blood test following 10-12 hours of fasting. In cases where regular monitoring is needed, a better method is needed and mHealth (mobile health) will be coming to the rescue. As in many other aspects of healthcare, the trend is toward remote monitoring with various biosensors. Initially it was counting steps and miles. Now it includes blood pressure, 1-lead ECG, heart rate, and numerous other health-related measurements. mHealth will enhance Telehealth and connected care consultations.

Based on work by the researchers at the University of California San Diego, monitoring of vitamin C levels may join the mHealth portfolio. The new devices, which could be useful in helping wearers to maintain optimal levels of vitamin C, consist of an adhesive patch a user can wear on their skin. When the body stimulates sweating in the underlying skin, the sensors in the patch capture enough sweat to analyze for vitamin C levels. The flexible patch contains an enzyme, ascorbate oxidase, which converts vitamin C to dehydroascorbic acid, (DHA), an oxidized form of ascorbic acid, the vitamin C. The interaction with oxygen in the process generates an electrical current which flexible electrodes within the patch can sense. The result is data which is proportional to the level of vitamin C present in the sweat.

The biosensor is still in the early stage, but the researchers have tested the sensors in human volunteers. They found they could track changes in the level of vitamin C over a span of a couple of hours. The sensors successfully detected changes in vitamin C levels when the volunteers drank orange juice or took a vitamin C supplement.

The potential of this new vitamin C detection technology could be significant over time. It may even be useful in the treatment of Covid-19. Day to day management of dietary and nutritional guidance may emerge as another mHealth app. Don’t sweat it? Yes, sweat it because the rapid development of biosensors many unlock many other secrets beyond vitamin C.

This article is related to health. These articles are my way of sharing what I have learned through basic research. My doctorate is in health administration. I am not a clinical doctor. Please don’t rely on any of my articles for any form of diagnosis or treatment. If you have any health issues,  please contact your doctor.