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E-cigarettes cause inflammation in the gut and can lead to health problems, study finds

A study provides new evidence of the health costs of vaping

Photo (c) Dariusz Makowski EyeEm - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego found yet another health risk associated with smoking e-cigarettes

According to their findings, consumers who vape are increasingly more susceptible to a condition known as leaky gut. This happens when holes have developed in the gut lining that bacteria can leak through, which can ultimately cause inflammation throughout the entire body. 

“This is the first study that demonstrates how chronic exposure to e-cigarettes increases the gut’s susceptibility to bacterial infections, leading to chronic inflammation, and other health concerns,” said researcher Soumita Das, PhD. “Given the importance of the gut barrier in the maintenance of the body’s immune homeostasis, the findings provide valuable insight into the potential long-term harmful effects chronic use of e-cigarettes [has] on our health.” 

Risks to gut health

To better understand how gut health is impacted by e-cigarettes, the researchers created 3D models of the human intestinal system using stem cells. They then used the models to mimic the process of smoking an e-cigarette and analyzed the effects of smoking on the models’ gut reaction. 

The researchers found that chemical additives used in e-cigarettes -- specifically propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol -- are responsible for damage to the intestines. Ultimately, these chemicals damage the gut’s protective barrier, which is what initiates gut inflammation. 

While this is concerning for overall gut health, the researchers explained that it can also have greater complications for consumers’ immune systems. Once these chemicals break through the intestines, they have direct access to the immune system, which can make consumers more susceptible to infections. 

“The safety of e-cigarettes has been debated fiercely on both sides,” said researcher Dr. Pradipta Ghosh. “Nicotine content, and its addictive nature, has always been the major focus of those who argue against its safety, whereas lack of chemicals in the carcinogens that are present in the cigarette smoke has been touted by the makers of e-cigarettes when marketing these products as a ‘healthy alternative.’ In reality, it’s the chemicals making up the vapor liquid that we should be more concerned about as they are the cause of gut inflammation.” 

Though vaping rates have declined in recent months -- especially for young people -- the researchers hope that consumers understand the severity of the long-term risks associated with smoking e-cigarettes. 

“The gut lining is an amazing entity,” said researcher Dr. Ghosh. “It is comprised of a single layer of cells that are meant to seal the body from trillions of microbes, defend our immune system, and at the same time allow absorption of essential nutrients. Anything we eat or drink, our lifestyle choices in other words, has the ability to impact our gut microbes, the gut barrier, and overall health. Now we know that what we smoke, such as e-cigarettes, negatively impacts it as well.” 

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