People usually switch to e-cigarettes thinking they’re doing their bodies less harm. But as it turns out, a lot of chemicals go into the making of an e-cigarette and the ones’ required to flavour the e-cigarettes could possibly impair the lungs ‘first line of defense against dirt and allergens, potentially increasing the risk of diseases such as asthma. These claims come from a Harvard study where researchers found that two chemicals, diacetyl, and 2,3-pentanedione, affect the function of cilia -- antennae-like protuberances that are present on 50-75 percent of the cells that line human airways.
"Although chemicals used to flavour e-cigs are frequently used, little has been known about the mechanism of how they impact health," said Quan Lu, an associate professor at the Harvard University in the US."Our new study suggests that these chemicals may be harming cilia -- the first line of defence in the lungs -- by altering gene expression related to cilia production and function," Lu said.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study is the first to look at the impact these chemical flavours have in human epithelial cells, which are the type that line the lungs. In previous studies, researchers found that flavouring chemicals -- primarily diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione -- are present in over 90 percent of e-cigarettes tested.
The chemical is also found as a flavouring agent in foods such as butter-flavoured microwave popcorn, baked goods, and candy. The chemical is considered safe in foods but evidence suggests that the same drug can be dangerous when inhaled.
Additionally, the team also found that low levels of the chemical affect the gene expression, suggesting that current standards for safe limits of exposure to these chemicals for workers may not be sufficient. There are no such standards for e-cigarette users, researchers said."E-cigarette users are heating and inhaling flavouring chemicals that were never tested for inhalation safety," said Allen.