Nicotine-free e-cigarettes can damage blood vessels

According to a new study, a single electronic cigarette can be harmful to the body's blood vessels, even when the vapor does not contain nicotine.

Smoking electronic cigarettes, also called vaping, has been marketed as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes and is increasing its popularity among non-smoking teenagers. However, a single electronic cigarette can be harmful to the body's blood vessels, even when the vapor is completely free of nicotine, according to a new study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. The results were published this week in the magazine. Radiology.

To study the short-term impacts of vaping, the researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams in 31 healthy and non-smoking adults before and after vaping an electronic cigarette without nicotine. Comparing the data before and after the MRI, the single episode of vaping resulted in reduced blood flow and impaired endothelial function in the large (femoral) artery that supplies blood to the thigh and leg. The endothelium, which covers the inner surface of the blood vessels, is essential for proper blood circulation. Once the endothelium is damaged, the arteries thicken and blood flows to the heart and the brain can be cut, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

"While the electronic cigarette liquid can be relatively harmless, the vaporization process can transform molecules, primarily propylene glycol and glycerol, into toxic substances," said study lead researcher Felix W. Wehrli, PhD, professor of Radiological Sciences and biophysics. "Beyond the harmful effects of nicotine, we have shown that vaping has a sudden and immediate effect on the vascular function of the body and could have harmful long-term consequences."

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Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that convert the liquid into an aerosol, which is inhaled into the user's lungs. Typically, the liquid contains addictive nicotine, as well as flavors. Millions of adults worldwide use electronic cigarettes, and vaping has become especially popular among teenagers. While there seems to be some consensus that vaping may be less harmful to health than smoking tobacco cigarettes, the dangers of electronic cigarettes remain unclear.

In this study, the researchers examined the impact of an electronic cigarette containing propylene glycol and glycerol flavored with tobacco, but not nicotine, from which study participants took 16 inhalations of three seconds. To assess vascular reactivity, the group contracted the thigh vessels with a cuff and then measured how quickly the blood flowed after its release. Using a multiparameter MRI procedure, the researchers scanned the femoral artery and vein in the leg before and after each episode of vaping to see how vascular function changed.

Then, the researchers performed a statistical analysis to determine group differences in vascular function before and after vaping. They observed, on average, a 34 percent reduction in dilation of the femoral artery. Exposure to electronic cigarettes also led to a 17.5 percent reduction in maximum blood flow, a 20 percent reduction in venous oxygen and a 25.8 percent reduction in blood acceleration after cuff release. , the speed at which the blood returned to normal flow after being squeezed.

These findings suggest that vaping can cause significant changes in the inner lining of blood vessels, said lead author Alessandra Caporale, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Structural, Physiological and Functional Imaging Laboratory in Penn.

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"Electronic cigarettes are advertised as not harmful, and many users of electronic cigarettes are convinced that they are only inhaling water vapor," Caporale said. "But the solvents, flavorings and additives in the liquid base, after vaporization, expose users to multiple insults in the respiratory tract and blood vessels."

Wehrli noted that they observed these surprising changes after the participants (all of whom had never smoked previously) used an electronic cigarette only once. More research is needed to address the possible long-term adverse effects of vaping on vascular health, but predicts that electronic cigarettes are potentially much more dangerous than previously assumed. Earlier this year, for example, his research group discovered that acute exposure to electronic cigarettes causes vascular inflammation.

“I warn young people not even to start using electronic cigarettes. The common belief is that nicotine is what is toxic, but we have discovered that there are dangers, independent of nicotine, ”said Wehrli. "Clearly, if there is an effect after a single use of an electronic cigarette, then you can imagine what kind of permanent damage could be caused after regularly vaping over the years."



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