A laboratory study by BU researchers has found that additives used to flavor e-cigarettes can damage the cells that line blood vessels and may reduce the production of nitric oxide, increasing the risk of inflammation and heart disease.
In a study published June 14 in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, BU School of Medicine researchers noticed that when the cells that line blood vessels were exposed to flavoring additives, normally released chemicals to promote blood flow were decreased and inflammation increased, indicators of short-term toxicity. The researchers found that endothelial cells from smokers showed similar toxicity as those treated with flavoring chemicals.
“Our findings show that flavoring additives themselves were directly toxic to blood vessels and have adverse effects that may have relevance to cardiovascular toxicity long-term similar to combustible cigarettes,” says corresponding author Jessica Fetterman, a School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine.
Since e-cigarettes came on the market in 2003, they have become increasingly popular. A study conducted in 2015 found that 37 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes, which are thought to be less harmful than traditional combustible cigarettes. Numerous studies have been done on the risks of e-cigarettes to lungs, but the risk to blood vessels and how flavorings can affect the body are largely unknown. No study has looked directly at the flavored additives’ toxicity to blood vessels until now.
The study, which exposed commercially available human aortic endothelial cells to nine flavoring chemicals for 90 minutes, found that cell death occurred only at high concentrations unlikely to be reached in normal usage. Lower concentrations of some flavors, however, induced inflammation and impaired nitric oxide production.