By generating 3D models of human intestinal tracts from patient cells, and testing how vapour interacts with them in a lab environment, the research team concluded that chronic (not acute) exposure to nicotine-free e-cigarettes led to “Leaky Gut” Syndrome. The condition is know to contribute to a variety of diseases and conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, dementia, certain cancers, atherosclerosis, liver fibrosis, diabetes and arthritis.
“The gut lining is an amazing entity. It is comprised of a single layer of cells that are meant to seal the body from the trillions of microbes, defend our immune system, and at the same time allow absorption of essential nutrients,” said Ghosh. “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.”
“Numerous chemicals are created when these two are heated to generate the fumes in vaping that cause the most damage, for which there are no current regulations,” said Ghosh. “The safety of e-cigarettes have been debated fiercely on both sides. 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.”
Are the findings taken out of context?
The researchers said that two chemicals used as a base for all e-liquids, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol were the cause of inflammation. However, at this stage more needs to be known about the method used by the researchers to expose the gut cells to vapour, as in real life conditions, any inhaled vapour is filtered by the lungs before entering the bloodstream and therefore interacting with any other body part.
Moreover, since vaping is only suggested as a safer alternative to smoking and/or as a quitting tool, it would have been ideal if the researchers had also exposed a set of gut cells to cigarette smoke for comparison, which they did not.
Smoking affects gut health more negatively than vaping
Infact, a 2018 study from Newcastle University comparing the gut flora/microbiome of smokers and vapers, had found that while smokers’ microbiome lacked the presence of certain strains of beneficial bacteria, vapers’ microbiome was intact, just like that of non-smokers.
Gut flora or microbiota is the complex community of bacteria that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals. When the populations of our gut flora are in balance they are beneficial to us, and help us with food digestion and the prevention of a number of conditions, including leaky gut syndrome.
The researchers from Newcastle University, examined samples of the gut bacteria of smokers, non-smokers and vapers, and found significant changes in the gut bacteria of the smoking participants, with an increase in a strand of bacteria which is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer and colitis. Smokers were also found to have a significant decrease in the beneficial bacteria or probiotic Bacteroides, a lack of which has been associated with Crohn’s disease and obesity.
In contrast, the gut flora of e-cigarette users was the same as that of non-smokers. “More investigation is needed but to find that vaping is less-damaging than smoking on our gut bacteria adds to the incentive to change to e-cigarettes and for people to use them as a tool to quit smoking completely,” said said lead author of the study Dr Christopher Stewart from the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University.
Read Further: EurekAlert!