Now you can track vitamin C intake on your skin

A new wearable patch has been created at the University of California San Diego.

68 year-old citrus grower Peter Spyke cuts a tangerine at Arapaho Citrus Management grove in Fort Pierce, Florida on November 21, 2019.

Photo by Gianrigo Marletta / AFP via Getty Images
  • A team at the University of California San Diego has developed a non-invasive skin patch that measures your vitamin C levels.
  • An electrode sensor measures vitamin C in your sweat.
  • The researchers hope this leads to the development of multivitamin patches that track nutritional deficiencies.

Vitamin C has long been one of the most discussed and debated vitamins. The curative effects of citrus on scurvy were known to 15th century explorers Vasco de Gama and Pedro Alvares Cabral. Royal Navy surgeon James Lind performed one of the first controlled trials in history in 1747, solidifying vitamin C's role in medicine. Soon after all crewmen received lemon juice while at sea.

As with every medicine, disentangling efficacy from hype is challenging. Two-time Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling went overboard in his fanaticism for vitamin C, popping pills like Silicon Valley elites ingest resveratrol. While Pauling's theories about megavitamin doses remain controversial today, there is no denying the necessity of regular vitamin C intake.

Vitamin C is making headlines during the pandemic. Some believe high doses of intravenous vitamin C help patients with COVID-19 recover faster, yet at the moment there is no proof. A clinical study in China is underway to test its efficacy in treating this novel coronavirus. Megadoses have been shown to help patients dealing with sepsis. Recent research showed positive results when using vitamin C to treat sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). There is precedent, but not a definitive answer.

Tracking vitamin C is important for some conditions. Being one of the most discussed essential vitamins, researchers at the University of California San Diego developed a wearable non-invasive vitamin C sensor similar to those used to track physical activity in fitness enthusiasts and blood sugar in diabetic patients.

No, Vitamin C won't cure your cold

Julian Sempionatto, first author of a study regarding this sensor, remarks, "This is the first demonstration of using an enzyme-based approach to track changes in the level of a necessary vitamin, and opens a new frontier in the wearable device arena."

The design is simple: an adhesive patch stimulates sweating. An electrode sensor measures vitamin C levels in your sweat. According to research on four human subjects who had taken vitamin C supplements or drank fruit juices, the sensor is highly sensitive. It detects small changes in vitamin levels over the course of two hours. The same sensor could also detect changes in tears and saliva.

Sempionatto believes the biomedical wearables industry is just beginning. He envisions a multivitamin patch in the near future. The study was conducted in Joseph Wang's lab at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Wang believes this is an important development in nutrition and health.

"I hope that the new epidermal patch will facilitate the use of wearable sensors for non-invasive nutrition status assessments and tracking of nutrient uptake toward detecting and correcting nutritional deficiencies, assessing adherence to vitamin intake, and supporting dietary behavior change."

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and Substack. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

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