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New Study Suggests That E-Cigarette Use Causes Immune Response in the Lung Associated with COPD

According to a new scientific study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, vaping increases the levels of innate defense proteins in the lung associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

e-cigarettes-COPDIn an attempt to determine the effects of e-cigarette use on the human airways, researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill conducted a small study comparing sputum samples from 15 e-cigarette users, 14 cigarette smokers and 15 nonsmokers. Their findings led them to conclude that “e-cigarettes might be just as bad as cigarettes” when it comes to the risk of developing conditions like COPD or cystic fibrosis.

“E-cigarette users exhibited significant increases in aldehyde-detoxification and oxidative stress related proteins associated with cigarette smoke comparing to non-smokers,” the researchers wrote. “The levels of innate defense proteins associated with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), such as elastase and matrix metalloproteinase- 9, were significantly elevated in e-cigarette users as well. E-cigarette users’ sputum also uniquely exhibited significant increases in neutrophil granulocyte- and NET-related proteins, such as myeloperoxidase, azurocidin, and protein-arginine deiminase 4, despite no significant elevation in neutrophil cell counts. An elevated concentration of mucin MUC5AC, was observed in both cigarette smokers and e-cigarette users.”

The study also found large numbers of NETs outside the lung, while analyzing the sputum of e-cigarette users. They are associated with cell death in the epithelial and endothelium, the tissues lining blood vessels and organs, and researchers write that more research is needed to determine whether this increase is associated with systemic inflammatory diseases, such as lupus, vasculitis, and psoriasis.

Neutrophil granulocyte- and neutrophil-extracellular-trap (NET)-related proteins play an important role in fighting pathogens, but in large numbers, they can contribute to inflammatory lung diseases, such as COPD and cystic fibrosis.

Aldehyde-detoxification and oxidative-stress-related proteins, thioredoxin (TXN), and matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9) are biomarkers of oxidative stress and activation of innate defense mechanisms associated with lung disease.

Mucin 5AC is a mucus secretion whose overproduction has been associated with pathologies in the lung including chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, asthma, and wheeze.

‘There is confusion about whether e-cigarettes are ‘safer’ than cigarettes because the potential adverse effects of e-cigarettes are only beginning to be studied,” lead study author, Dr Mehmet Kesimer, said. “Our results suggest that e-cigarettes might be just as bad as cigarettes.”

“Our data shows that e-cigarettes have a signature of harm in the lung that is both similar and unique, which challenges the concept that switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes is a healthier alternative,” Dr. Kesimer added.

One study limitation acknowledged by its authors is that out of the 15 e-cigarette users involved in the research, 5 said they occasionallyUNC CH logo-500-x-500-web smoked cigarettes and 12 identified themselves as having smoked cigarettes in the past.

Interestingly, just last month, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill put out another study regarding the link between vaping and COPD, which featured similar results. In that case, researchers analyzed data from two 2014 observational studies –  two observational studies – COPDGene Study and SPIROMICS – and found that not only were e-cigarettes causing the same damage as combustible ones, but they weren’t effective in helping smokers quit, either.

“Individuals who had tried e-cigarettes as a way to reduce their use of conventional cigarettes were actually less likely to reduce their use or quit combustible cigarettes than those who had never tried e-cigarettes,” lead-author, M. Bradley Drummond, said. “The data further suggest that there’s no clear benefit of e-cigarettes as a harm-reduction strategy in this population of smokers with or at-risk for COPD.”

“Nowhere in these data did we see a potential benefit of e-cigarette use,” Drummond added.

This is definitely bad news for electronic cigarettes, but I wouldn’t throw them away just yet. Let’s not forget that e-cigs have been under fire in the United States and pretty much everywhere else ever since they became popular. I am not calling this study fake, but I also can’t ignore the fact that so many health organizations in the UK have recently come out in support of vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking.

Even if the findings of these UNC studies turn out to be true – I’m still waiting for peer reviews – saying that vaping is just as bad as smoking tobacco is just stupid.

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