With their sweet flavors and colorful packaging, some kinds of electronic cigarettes are proving popular among younger consumers. However, according to a recent US study, daily use of pod-based vapes can alter the inflammatory state of the brain, heart and colon.
Some 12 million consumers in the US use e-cigarettes, say researchers at the University of California San Diego, with the highest rates among those age 18-24 years. With sweet flavors, colorful packaging and easy-to-use formats, certain types of e-cigarettes can appeal particularly to younger users. The researchers studied the effects of e-cigarettes on health, focusing in particular on pod-based e-cigarettes made by the JUUL LABS brand, one of the most popular in the field.
To conduct their study, the specialists exposed mice to flavored JUUL aerosols three times a day for three months. Mint and mango flavors, which are particularly popular, were chosen for the experiment.
In their study, published in the journal e-life , the specialists state that their findings "suggest that daily e-cigarette use may cause neuroinflammation, which may contribute to behavioral changes and mood disorders." The area of the brain particularly affected is the nucleus accumbens, a brain region that is critical for motivation and reward-processing, say the specialists.
"Many JUUL users are adolescents or young adults whose brains are still developing, so it's pretty terrifying to learn what may be happening in their brains considering how this could affect their mental health and behavior down the line," said senior study author Laura Crotty Alexander, MD, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
The researchers also noted increased inflammatory gene expression in the colon, "which could increase risk of gastrointestinal disease," they explain. In contrast, the heart was found to have reduced levels of inflammatory markers. The authors suggest that this may make heart tissue more vulnerable to infection.
Distinct effects from different flavors
The inflammatory response of the organs studied was also found to be different according to the flavors tested. For example, "the hearts of mice that inhaled mint aerosols were much more sensitive to the effects of bacterial pneumonia compared to those that inhaled mango aerosols," explain the researchers.
"If someone who frequently uses menthol-flavored JUUL e-cigarettes was infected with Covid-19, it's possible their body would respond differently to the infection," warns Laura Crotty Alexander. "This shows us that the flavor chemicals themselves are also causing pathological changes," the specialist concludes.