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E-cigarettes are generally considered to be far less risky to users than traditional combustible cigarettes but a new study from Stanford University published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that there may be a link between certain e-cigarette flavors, such as cinnamon, and heart risks. Is there some connection between vaping and heart attack or other cardiovascular risks? Dr. Joseph Wu, the study’s lead researcher and Director of Stanford’s Cardiovascular Institute, said, “It’s not possible for me to go into a patient and strip their artery and test it” for a reaction to vaping.

Instead, the team used Petri dishes to grow that normally line healthy human blood vessels. They then exposed the cells to six different e-cigarette flavorings, testing if the flavors – and not just the nicotine – caused any effects.

The researchers also analyzed what happened when those lab-grown cells were submerged in blood from vapers right after they had taken an e-cigarette hit, which is similar to the way chemicals from e-cigarettes might travel through the cardiovascular system. Additionally, the team compared the lab-grown cells’ exposure to blood from nonsmokers as well as traditional smokers.

The team found that vaping and some flavorings (even those without nicotine) increased blood vessel dysfunction – a sign of an increased risk of heart disease. According to the study authors, “Acute exposure to flavored e-liquids or e-cigarette use exacerbates endothelial dysfunction, which often precedes cardiovascular diseases.”

According to the researchers, Cinnamon and menthol flavorings had the most negative effects on the lab-grown cells. Overall, the cells showed signs of damage and were inflamed, less able to form new blood vessels or heal wounds.

The study found evidence of some toxic effects — including poorer cell survival as well as signs of increased inflammation — on a type of cardiovascular cell, but researchers warn against jumping to conclusions regarding a specific link between vaping and heart attack.

Dr. Wu said a big concern for him are people who already have heart disease who are currently smoking may think that switching from combustible cigarettes to vaping may be enough to halt their heart disease – which may not be enough protection.

Small laboratory studies like this one can’t actually prove whether vaping does any harm, says Dr. Jane Freedman of the University of Massachusetts, who wasn’t involved in the study. She cautioned against jumping to conclusions – telling the Associated Press that the Stanford study should spark additional safety testing.

Dr. Wu’s team plans additional studies with both brain and heart tissue.

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