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Vapers Have the Same Flourishing Gut Bacteria as Non-Smokers, First of Its Kind Study Finds

An international team of researchers recently analyzed the gut bacteria of tobacco smokers, e-cigarette users and non-smokers, and found that while smokers exhibit significant changes to their microbiome, vapers and non-smokers have the same mix of gut bacteria.

Researchers collected bacteria samples from throughout the digestive tract – including in the mouth and gut – of  10 e-cigarette users, 10 tobacco smokers and 10 controls (non-smokers). The faecal, mouth and saliva samples then underwent targeted gene sequencing to identify the types of bacteria present, which revealed significant differences between the three categories of test subjects.

In the mouth and saliva samples, which are directly exposed to the smoke or vapor, but also in the faecal samples, researchers found that the microbiome in smokers was very different to that of non-smokers. However, analysis revealed that the bacteria in all types of samples was very similar in e-cigarette users and non-smokers.

Smoker samples revealed an increase in the Prevotella bacteria, which has been linked to increased risk of colon cancer and colitis. Researchers also reported a decrease in the presence of Bacteroids, a good bacteria also known as a probiotic, a lower level of which has been linked to Crohn’s disease and obesity. Vapers on the other hand appeared to have the same flourishing gut bacteria as non-smokers.

“In summary, we found that tobacco smoking significantly alters the bacterial profiles in feces, buccal, and saliva samples. Compared to controls, exposure to ECs had no effect on the oral or gut communities. Changes in the gut microbiota of tobacco smokers were associated with increased relative abundance of Prevotella and decreased relative abundance of Bacteroides. From a microbial ecology perspective, this study supports the perception that ECs represent a safer alternative to tobacco smoking,” the researchers write in the study conclusion.

“The bacterial cells in our body outnumber our own human cells and our microbiome weighs more than our brain, yet we are only just beginning to understand its importance on our health,” said Dr Christopher Stewart from the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University, lead author of the study. “More investigation is needed but to find that vaping is less-damaging than smoking on our gut bacteria adds to the incentive to change to e-cigarettes and for people to use them as a tool to quit smoking completely.”

However, it is worth pointing out that this is a pilot study with a very small pool of participants. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but for the time being, it’s good to know that vaping appears to be considerably safer for gut bacteria than smoking tobacco.

Photo: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH/Wikimedia Commons

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