A new study suggests a link between e-cigarettes and bone health — even in young adults.
It’s clear that vaping can seriously wreck your lungs, especially in light of the alarming rise in hospitalizations for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in 2019. Beyond acute lung injury, though, experts I previously interviewed for Mic worry that vapes, not unlike regular cigarettes, could cause a plethora of long-term harms. A new study suggests that this may include fragile bones — even in young adults, according to a EurekAlert press release.
Dayawa D. Agoons of the Department of Medicine at UPMC Pinaccle in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, decided to embark on the study when he saw a patient after she’d undergone surgery to repair a femoral neck fracture, according the press release. “She was a smoker and used e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking,” he said. “I realized there was a knowledge gap in the literature on the potential relationship between e-cigarettes.” Although scientists had established a link between smoking combustible cigarettes and osteoporosis — a condition characterized by fragile bones — they had yet to investigate a similar connection between vaping and osteoporosis, per EurekAlert.
Agoons and his team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the press release explained, collected from 5,569 American adults from 2017 to 2018. The researchers identified 4,519 adults, or 81.2% who had never vaped and 1,050, or 18.8%, who had vaped at least once. Adults who had vaped at least once had reported suffering from osteoporotic fractures 46% more often than those who had never vaped. Since vaping is most common among 18- to 25-year olds in the U.S., the study implies that young e-cig users could be heightening their risk of osteoporotic fractures in the long run.
The findings, though compelling, do come with a few caveats. For starters, while they show that vaping is correlated with fragile bones, the researchers wrote in the study, we can’t definitively conclude at this point whether vaping causes fragile bones. Indeed, some participants might have started vaping after they had experienced osteoporotic fractures. The researchers also analyzed survey responses, which can be unreliable. Some participants might not have disclosed their vape use due to stigma, for example.
But if future studies reveal that vaping does mess with your bones, it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise. In the new study, the researchers cited earlier findings suggesting that vape juice can have toxic effects on bone. And because vapes contain significant levels of nicotine, they may increase the risk of osteoporotic fractures similar to how old-school cigarettes do. Nicotine can disrupt the activity of cells responsible for forming bones, the researchers explained, as well as the production and metabolism of vitamin D and certain hormones, lowering bone mineral density.
While scientists still need to conduct more studies to solidify a link between vaping and fragile bones, the new study adds to the ever-growing evidence that — even if they may be a less harmful alternative to real cigarettes for smokers who are trying to quit — vapes aren’t safe. Brittle bones may be just one of the potential risks they carry.