A new report is now bringing to light some questions about the safety of electronic cigarettes. It has widely been reported that e-cigarettes are safer than their cancer causing predecessor, however now there is level of concern. The majority of research up to this point have pointed to e-cigs as a healthier option than regular cigarettes, one that does not contain the harmful carcinogens that cause cancer. This new study, however, is claiming that e-cigarette vapor contains a high amount of free radicals which can have a damaging effect on human cells and could be a contributing cause to the development of cancer and other common health problems.
The new report was published in the journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology, and was conducted by a group of researchers at Pennsylvania State University. The researchers used commercially available vaping products that they testing with a vacuum machine, designed to simulate the common habits of an e-cigarette user. The levels of potentially harmful free radicals in vapor measures vary slightly depending upon usage and brand, however, the report states that a user who takes about 200 puffs per day would be exposing themselves to 2 x 1015 free radicals. The report compares these free radical values to what one would find in an air polluted area– which would measure at 2 x 1014 radicals. While the electronic cigarette smokes seems to slightly surpass the levels of free radicals in air pollution, there is a lot bigger disparity between e-cigarettes and their combustible predecessors.
Regular cigarettes contain an astounding amount of potential harmful free radicals, according to the study authors e-cigarettes are much safer and in fact the free radical levels are “100- to 1000-fold lower than those measured previously in mainstream smoke from conventional cigarettes.”
Still, the levels that are found in e-cigarette vapor are enough to warrant a little deeper investigation. In order to do that we need to look closer into what these free radicals really are.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms that exists without an unpaired electron. Scientifically speaking, this means that the atom is unstable and what is known as reactive. The most common form of free radicals are known collectively as reactive oxygen species.
How an atom behaves is determined by the number of electrons that are found around the atom structure. When an atom is missing electrons from this outer “shell,” it becomes unstable. As it looks for electrons to fill the empty holes, or ways to empty the electrons it already has, it may begin to wreak havoc on any neighboring cells.
When a free radical forms it does so at the expense of another cell, that will consequently be short an electron now creating what is known of as a free radical cascade, which is basically a big domino chain reaction that can decimate living cells.
Oxygen is perhaps the most susceptible to the occurrence of free radical formation. The oxygen-based free radicals can damage cell membranes, cause premature aging, skin cancer, and the death of the cell in general. Free radicals can be caused in a variety of ways, however, in electronic cigarettes it comes from the heating of the vapor, as heat can cause free radicals to form.
Experts warn that even though they are potentially hazardous, “it is best not to think of oxygen radicals as ‘bad.’” Oxygen based free radicals are created in a variety of natural reactions that are present and needed in everyday life. Some of these cells generate free radicals to kill pathogens and others may be helpful in cellular signaling that could result in greater regeneration of cells and DNA replication. Still it is clear, that even with beneficial moments, free radicals possess that unstable quality that make them a danger regardless.
Where else do you find Free Radicals?
Smoke and e-cigarette vapor are just two of the general causes of the generation of free radicals. The list is actually a lot longer than you would think. Cholesterol, meat and fatty foods are all causes of free radical formation. In fact, many other diet choices such as alcohol, are also factors. You will see free radical formation in air pollution, factory emissions, pesticides and even sunlight. Even just extra mental stress can cause these unstable atoms to rear their ugly heads.
You can, however, protect against free radicals using your diet as well. Foods such as clarified butter, sesame oil, curry herbs and a lacto-vegetarian diet can contribute toward protection from oxidization of your cells and keep free radical formation at bay.
What does this Mean for Vapers?
First and foremost, if you vape as a replacement to smoking you know you are already reducing your harm. Ideally, keeping yourself free from any unnecessary free radical exposure is the ultimate goal. However, if you are making the choice to vape over smoking, you are at the very least lessening your potential for danger from free radicals by 100 to as much as 1000 times. Remember, the level of harmful free radicals in e-cigs is akin to that of air pollution, so there is definitely more that needs to be uncovered to verify the level of safety in comparison.
In addition, just saying that there are free radicals does not necessarily mean it is as horrible as it sounds. As we have learned, there is free radical formation in many facets of our life, so it is always important to keep perspective. The important thing to take away is the same thing that the study authors conclude, more testing is needed to determine actual toxicology levels.
The results of the study as is, are not surprising to those in the scientific community, who already knew that the process of adding heat will undoubtedly result in free radical formation. The levels are the only part that is left to question. Ultimately, if you are worried about switching to vaping because of these health concerns, try to keep things in perspective. In all most all levels of comparison, e-cigarettes have proven safer than regular cigarettes, and while this study does bring up questions, it also confirms what many experts before them have, that e-cigs are far safer than the old fashioned cigarette model and have the chance to make a difference for so many in the world today.