Breath: it says a lot about our health
Tell me what you feel, I'll tell you what you have ... If practitioners of Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, have been scrutinizing the language of their patients for a long time, their Western colleagues are also beginning to look into mouths a little closer. Because the smell more or less pleasant that emerge can reveal many things.
A concentrate of odoriferous gases!
What is exhaled hides a multitude of volatile and invisible compounds: aldehydes, methane, acetone, nitrogen ... whose quantity and combination reflect our state of health. In eight to nine out of ten cases, heavy breath is indicative of poor oral hygiene, untreated caries, or gingival infection. Because the bacteria that form in the mouth produce volatile sulfur compounds. But she also knows how to give us indications on other organs more distant like the liver or the kidneys. A rotten egg hint may indicate liver failure, while a scent of apple or solvent (marking ketoacidosis) is sometimes a sign of diabetes. The body of diabetics in fact produces ketones in excess due to the misuse of sugars. Hence the advantage of consulting his doctor for a balance as soon as there is a lasting breath change that a good brushing fails to correct. Some generalists, dentists or gastroenterologists (but not all) are even equipped with a halimeter: a small device that detects the concentration of certain compounds in the air that expires.
A witness of our laborious digestions
These emanations depend on what we eat and, above all, on the way we assimilate it. Their analysis also informs about the performance of our digestive system. A peak of nitrogen indicates a congested liver, which has trouble metabolizing nitrogen products such as proteins. Problems of acidity and gastric reflux also promote the rise of odorous gases. Finally, a powerful aroma can be linked to the presence ofHelicobacter pylori in our stomach, a bacterium that can cause ulcers or even stomach cancer. An infection that the doctor can treat including with antibiotics. And since our exhalations reflect the way we metabolize food, why not make it an ally to lose weight more easily? Start-ups already imagine small devices that look like breathalyzers and could give personalized dietary advice via a breath test.
A key to detecting certain cancers
Other laboratories are on the run to detect in scents that we produce markers of serious conditions such as cancer or Parkinson's disease. Each of them entails the existence in our mouth of a very particular set of molecules. This research is inspired by the sense of smell of sniffer dogs who know how to use their numerous olfactory receptors. Canines have a long history of finding drugs or explosives. From now on, they are trained, with breath samples, to track cancerous tumors: studies show a success rate of about 85 to 100% in the detection of breast or lung cancer! "The disease has an odor and the detection of these odors sometimes precedes for several years the symptoms that allow a medical diagnosis," says Edith Pajot-Augy, specialist in neurobiology of olfaction at the National Institute of Agricultural Research. A non-invasive method that saves valuable time.
An inspiration for research
The idea is to create devices capable of replacing these dogs, which training is long and do not always find their place in the hospital. In this area of research, several projects are already well advanced. This is the case, for example, of NA-Nose, imagined by the Israeli Technion laboratory. This tool has tiny electronic sensors that measure the presence of certain volatile molecules. More than 2,800 breath samples collected from 1404 people were submitted to her. As a result, NA-Nose "sniffs" 17 different conditions, such as lung, prostate, neck and head cancer, as well as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, with an accuracy rate of 86%. An encouraging result, even if other validations remain to be established before the doctors can use it. Several European countries are working together to develop the SniffPhone, a similar device connected to a smartphone. Finally, researchers at INRA are thinking about an electronic "super nose" project, with biochemical sensors this time. The latter are reproduced from the olfactory receptors of the rat, which also has flair.
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