E-Cigarettes Have Much More Influence on Immune System than Regular Cigarettes
Most people assume that, because they do not contain actual tar or smoke, e-cigarettes are simply safer for them. The thought goes something like this: Heating up to atomize a liquid should eliminate combustion, and no smoke means no problems. The problem does lie in the variable and often undisclosed ingredients in those mixtures. There have been some studies, conducted recently, that do hint at some unexpected effects from these ever more popular devices.
These studies are conducted by swabbing the noses of several classes of participants: smokers, vapers (those who use e-cigs regularly) and non-users of either product. The initial findings of this study, in a paper delivered to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, are that smoking suppresses 53 genes in the immune system. The surprising indication is that vaping suppresses the same 53 genes – and 305 more!
They are still looking into the significance of all of this gene suppression, of course, but the initial results would lead them to suggest that e-cig users, the aforementioned vapers, do have compromised immune systems regardless of how safe they believe they are.
“Any time you change [the immune system], it’s probably out of balance,” Lead Researcher Ilona Jaspers of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stated, while explaining that a hyper-immune or a weak response is problematic. Having said that, she went on to affirm that, even after these studies, it is unknown whether the imbalance caused by the e-cigs leads to a boost in infection risks or if it has an impact on other immune diseases. “We don’t know,” Hill said.
To conduct the study, the researchers had to “mine” the noses of those different groups of people. There were about a dozen of each: cigarette smokers, vapers and non-users. These groups were selected on the basis of a smoking diary that each person kept for three weeks prior to the beginning of the study. The nose was picked as the testing site because the immune and cellular responses in this location of the body mirrored the responses in the lungs, and it is easier to get at with a swab, so exploratory surgery becomes unnecessary.
In this study, there were actually 600 genes whose activity was looked at. These are related to controlling and mounting immune responses. While comparing a smoker’s genetic information in these areas to a non-smoker’s, the researchers found 53 genes were dialed down significantly across the sample group of smokers.
Jaspers and her colleagues tested the e-cig liquid on the immune cells from many healthy volunteers. They collected these cells, such as neutrophils and macrophages, which are responsible for swallowing up bacteria invading the body. The diluted solutions of e-cig liquid caused these cells to fail at doing their job properly. This preliminary data indicates the liquid opens the door for infection because of the way it deals with these immune cells.
The various flavors of the liquid were also looked at. The effects were different and quite telling. It was discovered that, apart from the overall negative effect the liquid itself had on the immune cells, cinnamon – cinnamaldehyde – as well as butter flavors had the most potent effect.
These particular flavorings have been considered safe for inclusion in food and beverages, but nothing had been tested for inhalation. One of the most telling flavorings is the buttery kind. This is known to cause bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a severe disease causing tissue and inflammation build up in the lungs. This made newspaper and broadcast stories that talked about the effect it had on microwave popcorn workers, and it was called “popcorn worker’s lung.”
Another concern that Jasper and her team found was that there is not much research or labeling indicating how much flavor additive is in an average e-cig.
Neal Benowitz, of the University of California, San Francisco stated: “We’re really in the beginning of understanding the toxicity.” He noted that all e-cig devices vary widely in quantity and strength of liquid flavorings, which are not understood.
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