Hypoglycemia, Acetone and Breathalyzer (Alcohol Breath Tester) Results
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
Acetone in the breath of humans is one cause of false blood alcohol concentration (BAC) estimates that are generated by breath alcohol testing devices. It is clear from scientific research that acetone can exist in normal, average healthy people at sufficiently high levels to cause false high breath-alcohol test readings.
Hypoglycemia as a cause of acetone in the breath is well known and research has demonstrated that diabetics can have levels of acetone in the breath sufficiently high to register false readings of .06.
Hypoglycemia can also cause symptoms similar to those of intoxication. The American Diabetes Association identifies symptoms of hypoglycemia as including shakiness, dizziness, clumsy or jerky movements, difficulty paying attention, and confusion.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 23.6 million people in the country have diabetes and that 5.7 million are undiagnosed.
Hypoglycemia can also be caused not only by diabetes but also by
- other conditions such as cardiac, kidney and liver diseases,
- aspirin in large doses, sulfa medications and pseudoephedrine,
- overexertion, fright or anxiety, and
- diet soda.
However, either fasting or dieting can also cause significantly higher levels of acetone. Scientific research has demonstrated that fasting can increase the acetone level high enough to generate a false reading (estimate) of .06 BAC.
Alternatively, a low-carbohydrate diet can increase acetone levels. Additional acetone is produced by the body as it tries to compensate for the reduced glucose in low-carbohydrate diets. Those who follow the Atkins and similar diets intentionally seek to achieve a condition known as “low carb ketosis” to promote the utilization of fat.
Ketones create isopropyl alcohol, which is then converted into acetone. Thus, a side effect of ketosis is that the high levels of acetone produced causes it to be expelled from the lungs, where it can be falsely identified as alcohol. It is important to note that this can and does occur among teetotalers.
Such false readings are cumulative or in addition to the presence of any other compounds in the methyl group, over a hundred of which commonly occur in the human breath.
In summary, the scientific evidence indicates that hypoglycemia can cause individuals to fail field sobriety tests and acetone in the breath can cause either false positive readings in alcohol-breath testing machines.
It’s important to keep impaired and drunk drivers off the road to protect public safety and save lives. However, it’s also important to protect innocent drivers from being unjustly convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.
filed under: Breathalyzer