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While many people turn to e-cigarettes, thinking they are a healthier and safer alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, research continues to highlight risks associated with the popular devices, with a new study suggesting that vaping may increase the risk of heart disease.
In findings published in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology on February 1, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) indicate that e-cigarettes increase a person’s level of free radicals, and thus their risk of heart disease.
Researchers evaluated 42 healthy e-cigarette users ages 21 to 45, between 2015 and 2016. They compared those participants to 19 non-tobacco cigarette and non-vaping control subjects.
Participants had no known health problems, did not use prescription medications or tobacco cigarettes. Control participants had the same parameters, but also did not use e-cigarettes. They conducted blood tests, heart rate variability tests, and measured heart behavior.
The study linked two early indicators of heart risk with e-cigarette use. Among vape users, heart rate variability was shifted toward increased sympathetic predominance. Researchers indicated that the increased risk of cardiac sympathetic activity, as seen in e-cigarette users, also leads to increased heart rate and higher blood pressure. This puts them at risk for other heart relate problems over time.
These same abnormalities are seen in tobacco smokers. E-cigarette users also had higher levels of oxidative stress.
The researchers also found high levels of free radical molecules produced through breathing, which began to reach potentially harmful levels that are associated with cardiac risk.
Other research published in recent years has highlighted the potential health side effects of e-cigarettes, with another recent study concluding that vaping increases risk of oral disease, including oral cancer. The study indicated vaping reduced oral cells by 85%, mostly caused by decreased levels of antioxidants.
A study published last year indicated e-cigarettes emitted high levels of toxic chemicals not previously detected in e-cigarette vapors, causing unforeseen side effects.
This is the first study to look at cardiac risk factors in connection with habitual e-cigarette users.
Dr. Holly Middlekauff, lead author of the study and professor with the division of cardiology at UCLA, said the results were surprising considering e-cigarettes are believed to be less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. Yet, the results are concerning since some research has indicated that e-cigarettes are just as addictive as tobacco cigarettes.
The study shows an association between heart disease and e-cigarette use, but not a cause and effect relationship, the researchers noted. It is unclear exactly why e-cigarettes increase a person’s risk of heart problems, but researchers speculate the answer may be the inhaled nicotine.
Nicotine is the most biologically active component in e-cigarette aerosol and is an airway irritant. Nicotine also increases the adrenaline levels in the body which can activate other harmful reactions.