This Wearable Sensor Helps Your Body Maintain Optimal Levels Of Vitamin C By Detecting It In Your Sweat

Sensor monitors vitamin C in sweat
Image credit: UC San Diego

Vitamin C is one of the most effective nutrients. Its benefits include protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling. Vitamin C cannot be synthesized by our body, so it must be obtained through our food or via vitamin supplements. But how do you make sure that your body has optimal levels of this nutrient? Until now, it wasn’t possible to gauge the levels of vitamin C without a blood test. Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed flexible sensors that can be worn on the skin to sensitively track vitamin C levels in sweat. The device could be useful for people to track their daily nutritional intake and dietary adherence. The study was published in ACS Sensors.

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“Wearable sensors have traditionally been focused on their use in tracking physical activity, or for monitoring disease pathologies, like in diabetes,” said first-author Juliane Sempionatto, a PhD Candidate in nanoengineering in Joseph Wang’s lab at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “This is the first demonstration of using an enzyme-based approach to track changes in the level of necessary vitamin, and opens a new frontier in the wearable device arena.”

“Wearable sensors have rarely been considered for precision nutrition,” said Joseph Wang, a professor of nanoengineering and director of the Center of Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego.

A hand with a flexible sensor and a couple of pills on the palm
Image credit: UC San Diego News Center

Vitamin C is also being studied in several clinical trials for its potential in supporting recovery from COVID-19. A handful of past studies have showed that high doses of Vitamin C, along with other treatments can reduce mortality rates in patients with sepsis and, in one study, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – both common conditions seen in serious cases where patients with COVID-19 require intensive care and intubation, writes Alison Caldwell, Bigelow Science Communication Fellow at UC San Diego.

This Is How The Device Works

The new wearable device consists of an adhesive patch that can be applied to a user’s skin, containing a system to stimulate sweating and an electrode sensor designed to quickly detect vitamin C levels in sweat. To do so, the device includes flexible electrodes containing the enzyme ascorbate oxidase. When vitamin C is present, the enzyme converts it to dehydroascrobic acid and the resulting consumption of oxygen generates a current that is measured by the device.

In vitro testing and testing in four human subjects who had consumed vitamin C supplements and vitamin C-containing fruit juices showed that the device was highly sensitive to detecting changes in the levels and dynamics of the vitamin when tracked across two hours, UC San Diego report said.

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“Ultimately, this sort of device would be valuable for supporting behavioral changes around diet and nutrition,” said Sempionatto. “A user could track not just vitamin C, but other nutrients – a multivitamin patch, if you will. This is a field that will keep growing fast.” The UC San Diego team is closely collaborating with a major global nutrition company DSM towards the use of wearable sensors for personal nutrition.