Nicotine-free e-cigarettes can damage blood vessels

Smoking e-cigarettes, also called vaping, has been marketed as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes and is rising in popularity among non-smoking adolescents. However, a single e-cigarette can be harmful to the body’s blood vessels—even when the vapor is entirely nicotine-free—according to a new study by researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The results were published today in Radiology.

To study the short-term impacts of vaping, the researchers performed MRI exams on 31 healthy, non-smoking adults before and after vaping a nicotine-free e-cigarette. Comparing the pre- and post-MRI data, the single episode of vaping resulted in reduced blood flow and impaired endothelial function in the large (femoral) artery that supplies blood to the thigh and leg. The endothelium, which lines the inside surface of blood vessels, is essential to proper blood circulation. Once the endothelium is damaged, arteries thicken and blood flow to the heart and the brain can be cut off, resulting in heart attack or stroke.

“While e-cigarette liquid may be relatively harmless, the vaporization process can transform the molecules—primarily propylene glycol and glycerol—into toxic substances,” said the study’s principal investigator Felix W. Wehrli, Ph.D., a professor of Radiologic Science and Biophysics. “Beyond the harmful effects of nicotine, we’ve shown that vaping has a sudden, immediate effect on the body’s vascular function, and could potentially lead to long-term harmful…

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