E-Cig Flavor Cardiovascular Risk

E-Cig Flavor Cardiovascular Risk

Just when smokers thought getting off the hard stuff was behind them, e-cigarettes get another thumbs down. Turns out that enjoying a cloudy puff of menthol, vanilla, cherry or coffee tobacco flavoring (to name a few), might be detrimental to your health, particularly your heart. Find out if you are at risk and how you might be able to do something about it. 

It Wouldn’t Be the First Time

Throughout time, pipe smoking was considered an acceptable part of society and possibly status. Taking advantage of the addictive chemical nicotine in each product, allowed (and still allows) the tobacco industry to maintain high profit margins. In the past, adding flavors to tobacco, particularly pipe tobacco, increased users exponentially. Yet, health related ailments such as mouth and lung cancer maintained the dark side of tobacco. Now, history repeats itself but this time, the heart is on the front lines.

Vessel Compromise

Endothelial (endo-theel-ial) cells line blood vessel walls allowing for strength and protection along with other functions essential to circulatory health. Since there is little study on how e-cigarettes affect the heart, scientists like Dr. Joseph Wu, director of Stanford University’s cardiovascular institute, have been scouring for any possible link. Now, it looks like he and his colleagues have found a possible connection to the many flavorings used in e-cigarettes and heart disease. 

In response to figuring out how to test the direct effect of these flavorings during the use of an e-cigarette (aka vaping), Dr. Wu commented that, 

“It’s not possible for me to go into a patient and strip their artery and test it”. 

Therefore, his team had to figure the next best way to test this alleged blood vessel compromise. Turns out they found a way to grow endothelial cells (and other cells that line human blood vessels) in the laboratory using induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. Once this was accomplished, the researchers tried three experiments:

  • Exposed the cells to six different flavorings with and without nicotine
  • Bathed and tracked the cells in blood taken from an e-cig user right after inhalation
  • Compared traditional smoker blood to non-smoker blood

According to results from the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology as reported by the Associated Press (AP)

“Vaping and some flavorings, even without nicotine, triggered blood vessel dysfunction that can increase the risk of heart disease”

This blood vessel dysfunction involved DNA damage rendering the endothelial cells, at least in the lab, unable to strengthen and protect the vessel wall. This breach, according to the study, could create enough damage that blood flow would be compromised to the heart and the body would suffer. 

Dr. Wu commented, 

“This is really a warning shot that people should not be complacent and think that these e-cigarettes are completely safe,”

Beyond Your Heart

Another study of e-cig flavors led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health investigated how the cilia (sil-ee-uh) is affected. The Harvard Gazette reported that,

“Cilia are antennae-like protuberances that are present on 50 percent to 75 percent of the cells that line human airways. They play a key role in keeping the human airway clear of mucus and dirt and allow people to breathe easily and without irritation. Impaired cilia function has been linked to lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.”

Quan Lu, associate professor of environmental genetics and pathophysiology and Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, (both co-senior authors of the study) found that the flavoring chemicals in ninety-percent of e-cig oils, (called diacetyl or 2,3-pentandione), “altered gene expression related to cilia production and function”. 

Mr. Allen commented,

“E-cigarette users are heating and inhaling flavoring chemicals that were never tested for inhalation safety, Although some e-cig manufacturers are stating that they do not use diacetyl or 2,3-pentandione, it begs an important question — what chemicals, then, are they using for flavoring? Further, workers receive warnings about the dangers of inhaling flavoring chemicals. Why aren’t e-cig users receiving the same warnings?”

Switch It Up – Cinnamon & Menthol Scored Low

If you are a regular e-cig smoker (tobacco, CBD or marijuana) you may want to heed the warning of how flavorings may be affecting your body. Although the research is preliminary, it may be advantageous to at least switch up your usage. This means limiting the amount you consume or using less invasive flavors. 

According to Dr. Wu’s study, the flavors cinnamon and menthol were the most damaging. You can also start searching for companies that advertise safer formulas. 

As vaping becomes more commonplace cleaner options are becoming available, just like shopping for organic produce or free-range meats. Plus, with more underage kids doing it, (the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams labeled youth e-cigarette use an epidemic), ramping up safety and education should be significantly considered. 

The next area of study is researching e-cigarette effects on heart and brain tissue.