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Harmful metals in e-cigarettes could damage users’ DNA

Researchers say levels of zinc in these products pose serious health risks to consumers

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There has been no shortage of e-cigarette news as of late. Many experts say that the popular devices could be just as detrimental to consumers’ health as traditional cigarettes. 

While e-cigarettes contain a number of harmful chemicals, researchers from the University of California Riverside have now found that they also have harmful levels of metals. The researchers are most concerned about the levels of zinc, as exposure to the metal in these quantities can lead to several health concerns, including damage to consumers’ DNA. 

“Our study found that e-cigarette users are exposed to increased concentrations of potentially harmful levels of metals -- especially zinc -- that are correlated to oxidative DNA damage,” said researcher Prue Talbot. 

Harm to the body

To understand what effect these high levels of zinc can have on the body, the researchers analyzed how e-cigarettes affected 50 participants. The group was made up of cigarette smokers, e-cigarette smokers, and non-smokers so the researchers could best assess how e-cigarettes affect consumers with different smoking habits. 

The researchers tested the participants for certain biomarkers that are genetic indicators of disease or environmental exposures. They collected urine samples from all of the participants and evaluated their DNA responses. 

E-cigarette smokers were more likely than participants from the other two groups to present with genetic concerns related to metal exposure. The researchers found that e-cigarette smokers had higher levels of three biomarkers due to unsafe exposure to metals; each biomarker was related to oxidative damage to DNA. 

This is cause for concern, as damage to DNA can worsen if consumers use e-cigarettes over longer periods of time. This can increase their risk for any number of serious health conditions. According to researcher Shane Sakamaki-Ching, “prolonged use [of e-cigarettes] may lead to disease progression.” 

The researchers hope that consumers are mindful of these findings and that they understand the risks related to using e-cigarettes. 

“Given the recent deaths and pulmonary illnesses related to e-cigarette usage, everyone should be made aware of the potential health risks linked to e-cigarette usage,” said Talbot. 

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