A Tool for People with Diabetes that Measures Glucose Levels in Sweat Not Blood

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
November 10, 2017
Is there an easier way to monitor blood sugar?

If you have type 2 diabetes, you know just how annoying — and invasive — testing your blood sugar levels are. Every time you test, you have to prick your finger and bleed on an expensive blood glucose meter strip.

But what if you could test your sweat instead? That’s the idea behind a new device being developed by bioengineers from the University of Texas at Dallas. A team there has developed a new wearable device that monitors glucose, cortisol and interleukin-6 levels using just a little sweat. Values are stored for a week, giving a wearer time to make changes to their diet or stress levels in order to keep variables in a healthy range.

“When this device hits the market, it should be able to help people with diabetes, prediabetes and those who are at risk for prediabetes,” says Dr. Andrea Klemes, endocrinologist and MDVIP Chief Medical Officer. “Looking at glucose, cortisol and interleukin-6 levels will provide an in-depth story about a patient’s health.”

Traditionally, people with diabetes test their blood for glucose levels. Glucose, or blood sugar, is used by our cells for energy. After eating, sugars like fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar), and starches such as grains (breads, cereals and pasta), vegetables (corn, potatoes and peas) and beans/legumes are broken down by the digestive tract, converted into blood sugar and absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestine. Meanwhile the pancreas releases insulin which escorts the blood sugar into cells. If the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin for your body or if your body becomes resistant to insulin, your blood sugar levels will rise, leading to diabetes. For healthy individuals, blood sugar levels span between 80 and 130 mg/dl before meals and below 180 mg/dl after meals.  

But this device also measures two other variables: Cortisol and Interleuken-6. Cortisol is a hormone that’s activated when you’re stressed. It helps you prepare for the fight-or-flight syndrome by tapping into the liver’s protein stores, converting protein into blood sugar and sending the blood sugar to larger muscles to be used as energy to handle a stressful situation. Since insulin helps store blood sugar in the muscles, cortisol also inhibits insulin production so that the blood sugar remains available for immediate use. This means if you’re stressed out, your cortisol and blood sugar levels may be higher than you like. Cortisol levels vary throughout the day and can be affected by certain foods, alcohol, caffeine, stress and exercise. As a general guide, cortisol levels should fall around 10 and 20 ug/dl early morning, 3 and 10 ug/dl late afternoon and 5 ug/dl late evening.

Interleuken-6 (IL-6) is a protein secreted by certain white blood cells that helps stimulate the immune system and other proteins that can cause tissue inflammation. Your body needs IL-6 to help fight bacterial infections but too much IL-6 is associated with low-grade inflammation, obesity and insulin resistance – all major contributors of type 2 diabetes.

Although researchers are still working on the device, they published results from their preliminary study in Nature Scientific Reports. Before going to market, researchers imagine the device will have a small transceiver that will send the data to a mobile phone app. Researchers designed the device to be affordable for manufacturers to produce so that it’s accessible for most people.  

If you have diabetes, prediabetes or at risk of developing prediabetes, work with your doctor to control your blood sugar levels. As part of the MDVIP Wellness Program, your doctor can customize a wellness plan for you and your needs, including managing blood sugar and stress. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? MDVIP has a nationwide network of physicians. Find one near you and begin your partnership in health »


About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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