Vitamin D is essential to human health, but taking too much of the “sunshine vitamin” can lead to organ damage and increase the risk of certain cancers.
Vitameter, a Velocity Science startup founded by three University of Waterloo nanotechnology engineering students, is developing an affordable, handheld testing device that can report vitamin D levels at home in minutes rather than waiting days for results from a lab.
Vitameter is bringing nanotechnology to consumers to help them take control of their health,” says company co-founder James MacLean. “Expectant mothers, vegetarians, the elderly – anyone concerned about their health – will benefit by knowing how much supplement they need to take.”
Studies show that while the doctor-recommended daily intake can work well for one person, it can be excessive or insufficient for another. Seasonal variations and individual differences in vitamin absorption, age and weight mean that the dose we think we’re taking may not translate into the healthiest levels in the body.
And unlike water-soluble vitamin C, mega doses of supplements like vitamin D and iron do not readily flush out of the body. Instead, they build up in fatty tissue and the liver. This build up causes a strain on organs and an increased risk for certain cancers. Alarmingly, consumers experience no immediate symptoms.
For example, more than 40 per cent of Canadians are not getting enough vitamin D in the winter, but this level drops to 25 per cent in the summer according to a 2013 Statistics Canada report. Overall it’s estimated the majority of Canadians taking vitamins are taking vitamins they don’t need.
The supplement industry is good at marketing huge quantities of vitamins to people,” says MacLean. “We want consumers to know if they need certain vitamins using a reliable metric.”
Vitameter measures vitamin D levels using a pin prick and a drop of blood on a stick. The blood sample is inserted into the Vitameter device where it is filtered, analyzed and measured using nano-materials. A single test costs only $5, compared to $60 to $100 through a medical lab. Vitameter hopes to expand the device in future to include other vitamins of major concern such as iron and B12.
In addition to the device, Vitameter is also developing a smartphone app to track vitamin levels and suggest key foods and tailored vitamin dosages to maintain an optimum balance.
The Vitameter team, which also includes Lucas Lim and Nirushan Udayakumar, will compete next Thursday, November 27th for one of four $25,000 prizes at the Fall 2014 Velocity Fund Finals.
For more information on the Velocity Fund Finals and to register for a spot in the audience, please visit the Velocity Fund Finals website.