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Vaping Pulls in Toxic Metals into Your Lungs, New Study Found

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Lead, manganese, and nickel are some of the metals that can be inhaled through the use of e-cigarette devices. According to the researchers of Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, high levels of certain metals can cause multiple organ damages and risk of developing cancers.

The human body metabolizes certain metals as minerals for various biological processes, such as iron. However, other metals can naturally injure the body, which can result in damage to the lungs, liver, heart, brain, and the immune system. Unsafe levels of toxic metals can also induce cell damage or cell mutation that leads to cancer.

In the study, researchers examined the vaping devices owned by 56 users. These users have been recruited from vaping conventions and e-cigarette shops in Baltimore in fall of 2015. They tested the devices and detected metals in the vape juice in the refilling dispensers. Their analysis revealed that most metals are in trace amounts, but a significant number of the sample devices can produce aerosols with unsafe levels of toxic metals, such as chromium, lead, manganese, and/or nickel. The median concentration of toxic metals in the aerosols is about 15 µg/kg, more than 25 times greater than the median levels in the dispensers.

“We don’t know yet whether metals are chemically leaching from the coil or vaporizing when it’s heated,” said Dr. Ana Maria Rule, the senior author of the study and an assistant scientist in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering in Bloomberg School at Johns Hopkins.

Each of this metal has the property to trigger adverse effects on human health:

1. Chromium: It is a metal that can be absorbed by the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract. To some extent, it may also be absorbed by the skin. When inhaled, the metal irritates the lungs that usually leads to airway obstruction and malignant growths in the lungs, nose, and sinuses. Other adverse effects of chromium exposure include asthma, chronic bronchitis, and tracheobronchitis.

2. Lead: This metal can be particularly dangerous to young children because of its effects on the brain, liver, kidneys, and the bones. Exposure to lead can cause anemia, high blood pressure, kidney damage, and reproductive organ damage.

3. Manganese: The pinkish-gray metal is one of the three toxic essential trace elements. It means that without manganese, humans will not survive, but high concentration level is toxic to human health. A low dosage of manganese can cause blood clotting problems, skin problems, low cholesterol levels, bone disorders, and birth defects. Chronic exposure to the metal causes emotional disturbances, paralysis, and other disorders related to the central nervous system.

4. Nickel: The metal is known for its silvery-white color and hardness that make it a desirable combination with other metals. Nickel allergy is the most common adverse effect of the metal to human health, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The common types of allergy can be associated with nickel include dermatitis and hand eczema. If the person inhaled particles of the metal, an asthma attack may happen. Nickel normally dangerous to human health in large quantities, while chronic exposure can cause chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and cancers of the lungs and sinuses.

“It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies, and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals - which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale,” said Dr. Rule.

The Food and Drug Administration remains the authority that regulates e-cigarettes and similar products. However, the agency is still struggling with proper regulation of these products. The researchers hope that the new findings may be included in the focus of upcoming rules for e-cigarettes.

Last month, researchers at the New York University School of Medicine found that e-cigarettes can cause cancers of the heart, the lungs, and the bladder in mice. The aerosol exposure caused damage to the mice’s DNA and their natural ability to repair it, which lead to cancer growth.

"We found the solvent alone does not cause DNA damage. Nicotine with e-cigarette solvent caused the same damage as nicotine alone,” said Moon-shong Tang, the lead researcher of the study and a professor of environmental medicine at New York University.

Although not all results in mice are similar with humans, Tang and the research team found similar results in cultured human lung and bladder cells exposed to nicotine with solvent. Some vape juices sold in the market contain 0.6 to 1.8 percent nicotine. Heavy smokers who plan to shift to e-cigarettes may start with 18 percent vape juices, similar to regular cigarettes to sustain the cravings. Users can eventually change their vape juices with lower nicotine dosage.

Nicotine is an addictive substance that primarily exposes the person to dependency. It can cause a wide variety of adverse effects to individuals, such as anxiety and depression, difficulty in concentration, the formation of plaque in the arterial wall, peptic ulcers, and type 2 diabetes.

[메디컬리포트=​Ralph Chen 기자]

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