Users of electronic cigarettes – especially younger ones – think they are enjoying themselves, but in fact, they are raising their risk for premature aging of the brain, according to a new study from the University of California at Riverside that has been presented by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA). “Young adults and teens are especially sensitive, as the brain continues to develop until age 25 at least,” the ICA said.
The chemicals emitted by e-cigs are liable to harm the brain’s stem cells – neural cells that have the potential to give rise of offspring cells that grow and differentiate into neurons and glial cells that insulate neurons and speed up the signals they send.
Stem cells are essential for the development of various organs in the body and for the regeneration and restoration of tissues, both during fetal development in the mother’s uterus and during childhood and adolescence. Neural stem cells (NSCs) are known to be susceptible to toxins such as those in tobacco including nicotine, which harm their ability to multiply and differentiate.
Now, the University of California researchers writes in the CellPress journal iScience show how stem cells in the brain are affected by exposure to nicotine and chemical flavor additives found in e-cigs, vapors, and aerosols emitted from them.
The choice of NSCs as the basis for the experiment was connected to the ability of the inhaled chemicals inhaled to reach the brain through the olfactory pathways. To test this, the researchers conducted a series of lab tests in which these cells were exposed to liquid, vapors and sprays of nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes at the same concentration as those found in e-cigs. The results of the experiments showed that the exposure of the brain’s stem cells to nicotine, found in most electronic cigarette liquids and fragments, caused an oxidative stress response in which the body finds it difficult to cope with free radicals. This was expressed as an interruption in the process of removing damaged cells and replacing them with healthy ones and an impaired cellular ability to differentiate and produce energy, which are related to aging.
“During the stress response of cells to nicotine, the cells accumulated oxidative damage, so that even after nicotine was removed, the abnormal genetic and physiological changes in the cells may have remained. Therefore, long-term exposure to electronic cigarette vapor has the potential to increase the risk of premature aging and disease,” the authors wrote.
Stem cell damage also has a significant impact on the development of fetuses and infants, and fetal exposure to nicotine changes brain pathways that are essential for cognitive and motor functions and behavioral responses.
In the long run, the direct or passive exposure to electronic cigarettes, even for short periods of time, can lead to repeated and cumulative use of the aging process and the disease, they concluded.
The ICA is very concerned about the results of the new study, said Dana Frost of its Health Promotion Program. She explained that “every week that passes produces more scientific evidence about the relationship between e-cigs and genuine health risks. We are aware that they contain, besides nicotine, various addictive and harmful substances, some of which have already been proven to be carcinogenic. These substances can also cause attention-deficit disorders, headaches, and migraines, adversely affect judgment, encourage impulsivity and emotional imbalance, cause depression and anxiety. This new study adds to evidence that e-cigs can impair brain development and make it age prematurely.”
Dr. Dudi Biton, a senior ICA doctor and information coordinator, noted: “This lab study, which deals with increasing the risk of early brain-cell aging, joins the already known link between electronic cigarettes for heart attacks, strokes, and hypertension, which are the world’s leading causes of death. The US Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it is investigating reports of young electronic cigarette users who experience seizures. Recent studies have also indicated genetic changes associated with the development of cancerous tumors in the oral cavity of e-cig users and an increase in markers identified with the risk of developing cancerous tumors in the lungs.”
While the new study was conducted on lab mice, the ICA believes its results are relevant to anyone contemplating using e-cigs. In particular, we are concerned about young adults and adolescents whose damage to brain development has already been scientifically established. They are tempted to enter the smoking cycle and are hurt by the short-range damage already known and the long-range damage that has not yet been fully exposed.