Though e-cigarettes have been touted as a healthier and safer alternative to regular cigarettes, vaping while pregnant may also cause birth defects, a new study has found.
How does vaping affect unborn babies?
We’ve known for quite a long time that cigarettes are bad for us. There’s a whole host of health problems associated with smoking, like lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, lung cancer, and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Smoking has been found to cause more deaths than HIV, illegal drugs, alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents, and firearm-related incidents combined.
Smoking can also affect a woman’s fertility and pregnancy. It can make it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant, and it can also affect a baby’s health both before and after birth. Smoking while pregnant has also been found to cause craniofacial defects in the fetus.
A new study has found that e-cigarettes may also cause the same kind of defects in a fetus, even though e-cigarettes have been considered to be “safer” than regular cigarettes.
An African clawed frog, whose embryos are useful for studying craniofacial development.
Thus, if you smoked before you got pregnant, opting for e-cigarettes won’t necessarily spare you or your baby from the negative effects of smoking. Keep in mind that e-cigarettes are relatively new, and there haven’t been many studies on how safe they are exactly. We also don’t know much about how e-cigarette aerosol mixtures (e-cigAMs) affect fetuses.
The liquids in e-cigarettes include components such as water, flavoring, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and yes, nicotine as well. Propylene glycol in particular can produce toxic substances like acrolein, formaldehyde, and benzene when heated. E-cigAms also produce harmful substances like hemiformals, glycidol, dihydroxyacetone, and vinyl alcohol isomers when heated. The addition of flavorings also complicate the effects of this cocktail of potentially harmful substances.
There may now be evidence that e-cigarettes actually are harmful to unborn babies. To test these effeccts, researchers exposed African clawed frog embryos to various kinds of e-cigAMs. African clawed frogs, it bears noting, is a species that’s particularly useful for examining craniofacial development. Researchers used “lab-grade” e-cigAMs, which don’t include flavorings, and six other e-cigAMs with flavorings.
The researchers found that the lab-grade e-cigAMs had minor effects on the mouths of the embryos, though higher levels of nicotine also intensified these effects. However, things got hairier when flavorings were involved.
Flavored e-cigarette fluids may have significant effects on growing fetuses.
Flavorings seemed to worsen the effects of the e-cigAMs on the embryos. However, two flavorings in particular caused the most significant changes to the embryos’ mouths.
According to the researchers, "[w]e determined that embryos exposed to two e-cigAMs [...] had dramatic craniofacial defects including eye abnormalities, midface hypoplasia, and a median cleft." The presence of nicotine also seemed to have little effect, since removing the nicotine caused the same defects, though at a slightly less severe level.
The researchers also tested the effects of e-cigAMs on the neural crest cells of rodents. Neural crest cells eventually grow to become craniofacial cartilage and bone. The findings showed that exposure to e-cigAMs reduced the rate of growth of these cells.
Of course, it’s important to remember that these tests weren’t carried out on humans. However, the findings may help inform decisions on whether or not using e-cigarettes during pregnancy is as safe as some people may think.
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