First, there were supplements to swallow your daily dietary needs in capsules.
Then, there was Soylent, the whole ‘meal’ in a single bottle.
Now, e-cigarette makers want you to simply inhale your vitamins.
As the vape industry tries to salvage itself from growing research on its dangers an FDA warning against the devices dangers for teens and even a raid on top e-cig company, Juul, a few brands are trying to jump on the wellness bandwagon.
These companies sell $10-$30 devices that, they claim, have e-liquids loaded with vitamins like B-12 for you to vape instead of nicotine and flavoring.
But experts caution that breathing really isn’t the best way to get nutrients – and subtracting nicotine from the e-cig equation doesn’t mean the devices are safe.
And, ironically, some of the very same vitamins these brands want you to vape may raise the risk of lung cancers.
Several brands are selling vitamin e-cigarettes that they claim let you inhale your daily dose of nutrients (and then some), but an expert says that’s impossible – and may be dangerous
E-cigarettes began their march to market dominance as a ‘safer’ alternative to combustible tobacco.
Now, more than three percent of adults in the US use them, as do two million middle and high school students.
And 40 percent of the youngest legal users (between 18 and 24) were never cigarette smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest data, from 2016.
Vaping has ceased to be a smoking cessation tool, and taken on a life of its own in American culture.
Now that e-cigarettes are in a bit of public health hot water, some companies are hoping that they can demonstrate that vaping can be used for good – nutrition.
It’s not exactly a new phenomenon, but its one a growing number of manufacturers may want to pivot to and capitalize on, as health officials crack down on nicotine.
For example, VitaCig claims to have been the first company to launch a ‘nutrient infused aromatherapy device’ in 2014.
Its products come in an array of fruity-colored and flavored options, containing ‘several key nutrients.’
‘As the bearing liquid vaporizes at just 140 degrees, it may allow for the preservation of a small amount of the nutrients, which may be absorbed via the mucous membrane of the oral cavity,’ the company’s site explains.
Even VitaCig’s own description doesn’t sound too confident that users will be sucking in much nutrition from their devices.
And the science doesn’t back the idea up either.
Most nutrients are fat or water soluble, ‘so vitamins need to come with [fat and water] and go through the same gastrointestinal tract to be absorbed,’ says Dr Charles Mueller, a professor of nutrition at New York University.
‘You may get some passive absorption in the lining of the lungs, but you don’t get any absorption of fat or water soluble vitamins.
‘It just doesn’t happen. The physiology doesn’t work.’
The body is designed to get its nutrients the good old-fashioned way: through food.
Every location along the digestive tract – beginning with the mouth – plays a role in breaking down food so that the valuable parts can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
The physiology doesn’t work
Dr Charles Mueller, NYU nutritionist, on the impossibility of inhaling nutrients
But the vast majority of that absorption doesn’t occur until foods, drinks or supplements reach the small intestine – the second-to-last stop on the digestive path.
You can inhale through your mouth, but very little air makes it into the rest of the digestive tract where nutrients get absorbed.
In fact, swallowing much more air can cause gastrointestinal problems like belching. Likewise, inhaling food, saliva or liquids into your lungs can cause severe problems.
‘The lining of the gastrointestinal tract and the lungs are very sophisticated skin surfaces’ Dr Mueller says.
‘The GI tract lets in nutrients and water – and nothing else. The lungs let CO2 and oxygen go back and forth – and nothing else – and that’s pretty remarkable.’
Dr Mueller explains that about two-thirds of the body’s immune system is dedicated to making sure only the right molecules pass through the right surfaces.
‘It’s there to protect us,’ he says.
In other words, you can’t literally inhale your food.
We do know that other tissues, like the skin, can sap up hormones and some drugs (including nicotine). So the US military is developing a nutrient-loaded skin patch to help soldiers stay healthy during combat.
But the Department of Defense estimates that its system might be ready by 2025.
It seems unlikely that small, private companies like VitaminVape have figured out something that the US government is still nearly a decade from making.
Yet, VitaminVape claims to have ‘peer-reviewed studies going back over half a century indicate that inhalation is an extremely effective way of absorbing vitamin B12.’
The GI tract lets in nutrients and water – and nothing else. The lungs let CO2 and oxygen go back and forth – and nothing else – and that’s pretty remarkable
Its own studies seem to show that, too, busting users’ vitamin levels significantly and for hours – even a day – when used at the highest concentration (2,000 μg, which is nearly 1,000 times the suggested daily intake for a 30-year-old adult).
And its products are nothing if not highly-concentrated. VitaminVape boasts that one $25 vaporizer contains as much B12 as 10 injections of B12. It doesn’t mention how vaping the vitamin compares to taking a supplement or eating it.
It is next to impossible to overdose on B12, but the nutrient may have more insidious dangers.
Last year, a Harvard University study found that male smokers who took high doses of B vitamins were at three-times greater risks of lung cancer than those that didn’t take the supplements.
Dr Mueller says that a similar ‘irony’ was discovered about over-intake of vitamin E supplements and lung cancer.
Even without nicotine, even without considering the long term risks suggested by studies like the Harvard one, vitamin vapes still require a liquid composed of chemicals and flavoring compounds to be heated and inhaled.
Just today, a Greek study found that e-cigarettes cause just as much inflammation in and damage to the lungs as traditional cigarettes do.
So no matter what they’re infused with, e-cigarettes are simply not good for the lungs.