April 29 (UPI) -- E-cigarette users experience damage to their arteries and blood vessels similar to that of traditional cigarette smokers, an analysis published Wednesday by the Journal of the American Heart Association has found.
Researchers who studied the arteries and blood vessels of current and former smokers and vapers, or people who used both, noted that both groups had augmentation indices -- a measure of arterial stiffness -- similar to traditional cigarette users, meaning that their arteries were just as stiff.
They also observed that endothelial cells, or the cells that line blood vessels, appeared to be equally as damaged whether people used e-cigarettes, combustible cigarettes or both.
"Many people believe e-cigarettes are safer than combustible cigarettes," study co-author study author Jessica L. Fetterman, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Meanwhile, the evidence from scientific studies is growing that e-cigarettes might not be the safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes when it comes to heart health. Our study adds to that evidence."
Fetterman and her colleagues studied the blood vessels in more than 400 men and women between 21 and 45 years of age with no history of heart disease and no known heart disease risk factors, using an approach called vascular function testing, which is non-invasive. Study participants included 94 nonsmokers, 285 cigarette smokers, 36 e-cigarette users and 52 users of both products.
The authors observed that traditional cigarette smokers and users of both traditional cigarettes and vaping devices were older than non-smokers and e-cigarette users, while e-cigarette users were more likely to be younger, male and white. All e-cigarette users were former smokers of traditional cigarettes.
In general, "the endothelial cells from e-cigarette users or dual users produced less of the heart-protective compound nitric oxide, compared to non-tobacco users," Fetterman noted. "Their cells also produced more reactive oxygen species, which cause damage to the parts of cells such as DNA and proteins."
Stiffness of the arteries, as well as damage to other blood vessels, has been linked with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
"Stiffening of the arteries can cause damage to the small blood vessels, including capillaries, and puts additional stress on the heart, all of which can contribute to the development of heart disease," Fetterman explained.
"Our study results suggest there is no evidence that the use of e-cigarettes reduces cardiovascular injury, dysfunction or harm associated with the use of combustible tobacco products," she added.
The research was funded through the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science of the American Heart Association. Fetterman said that longer-term studies are needed to determine if vascular damage from e-cigarettes alone changes over time.