E-cigarettes may be worse for heart than conventional ones, study warns

LOUISVILLE, Ky. –– Many smokers have turned to vaping as a more practical alternative to traditional cigarettes. Some even think that they aren’t has harmful as the “real thing.” Findings from a new study led by University of Louisville, however, suggests the opposite — demonstrating that some cardiac effects of the ingredients in e-cigarettes are the same or even worse than conventional ones.

E-cigarette use has seen exponential utilization growth in recent years, especially among the youth. Prior to the pandemic, 25% of American high schoolers and 10% of middle schoolers reported using e-cigarettes. So far, health implications have been debated because vapes don’t undergo combustion, bystanders don’t risk exposure to carcinogens unlike conventional cigarettes. The thing is that vapes do deliver aldehydes, particles and nicotine in similar levels as cigarettes.

The researchers tested cardiac implications of e-cigarette aerosol inhalation in mice by focusing on the main two ingredients in nicotine-free varies, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, or from flavored e-vapes with nicotine. They found that regardless of type, mice heart rate slowed during puff exposures and got quicker afterwards, which suggests that their body reacted to inhalation with a fight-or-flight response. Further, e-cigarette smoke from a menthol-flavored liquid or from propylene glycol by itself caused ventricular arrhythmias and other heart conduction abnormalities.

“Our findings demonstrate that short-term exposure to e-cigarettes can destabilize heart rhythm through specific chemicals within e-liquids,” explains Alex Carll, assistant professor in the UofL Department of Physiology who led the study. “These findings suggest that e-cigarette use involving certain flavors or solvent vehicles may disrupt the heart’s electrical conduction and provoke arrhythmias. These effects could increase the risk for atrial or ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac arrest.”

While vapes help people wean off of regular cigarettes, the fruit-flavored, electronic, neutral smelling nature of them appeals makes it more appealing for young people to try them out without knowing how they’re affecting their health.

“The findings of this study are important because they provide fresh evidence that the use of e-cigarettes could interfere with normal heart rhythms — something we did not know before,” says Aruni Bhatnagar, professors in the U of L Division of Environmental Medicine. “This is highly concerning given the rapid growth of e-cigarette use, particularly among young people.”

Since this is an animal study, the researchers agree that more research on both animals and humans is urgently necessary in order to establish more solid findings on potential cardiac impacts of these smoking devices.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, with next steps being completion of a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center where she currently is gaining experience with various populations and areas of medical nutrition such as Pediatrics, Oncology, GI surgery, and liver and renal transplant. Shyla also has extensive research experience in food composition analysis and food resource management.

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