Switching to vaping promotes healthy gut microbiota, says pilot study

The results of a recent pilot study indicate that smokers who switch to vaping often experience vast improvements in intestinal microbiota that are essential to the prevention of disease.  A healthy gut reduces the risks of obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory intestinal disease, nonalcoholic fatty livery disease, metabolic syndrome, other medical disorders.  The pilot study conducted by researchers of the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University in the UK compares the effects of smoking and vaping related to both oral and gut bacteria.

Overview of the vaping and gut microbiota pilot study

Because this initial research is only a pilot study, the scientists chose to keep the control group of participants small.  Depending on the results, they hoped to continue their research in the future.  So, for the pilot study, they selected a control group of 30 participants, including 10 smokers, 10 vapers, and 10 non-smokers/non-vapers.

  • Average age of the non-smoking/non-vaping group is 31.
  • Average age of the vaping group is 29.
  • Average age of the smoking group is 35.
  • Over 90% of the 30 participants are male.
  • Over 90% of the 30 participants were also meat eaters
  • 60-70% of the 30 participants are Caucasian with the remaining percentage consisting of Hispanic, Asian, and African-American participants.
  • For the vaping group, nicotine concentration levels, daily vapor consumption, and other significant indicators were carefully tracked and evaluated.
  • For the smoking group, cigarettes per day, carbon monoxide levels, and other tobacco-related factors were also carefully monitored.

Led by microbiologist Dr. Christopher Stewart, the research team then collected feces samples, buccal swabs, and saliva samples periodically from each of the 30 members of the control group.  They evaluated these samples for a long list of gut bacteria, primarily focusing on the more dominant members of the microbiota family - Prevotella and Bacteroides.  All samples also went through a rigorous V4 16S rRNA gene sequencing process.

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What the Stewart team discovered is that the vaping-only groups exhibited approximately the same healthy levels of intestinal bacteria as the non-smoking group.  The smokers, on the other hand, did not fare quite as well.

In summary, we found that tobacco smoking significantly alters the bacterial profiles in feces, buccal, and saliva samples. Compared to controls, exposure to ECs had no effect on the oral or gut communities. Changes in the gut microbiota of tobacco smokers were associated with increased relative abundance of Prevotella and decreased relative abundance of Bacteroides. From a microbial ecology perspective, this study supports the perception that ECs represent a safer alternative to tobacco smoking.”

Dr. Stewart also notes in the published findings that the results are not definitive, but the pilot study is a good starting point for conducting more detailed research in the future.  He and his research team already have several additional projects in the works involving a greater number of participants with a higher diversity of ethnicities, eating habits, and other lifestyle criteria.  The original pilot study entitled Effects of tobacco smoke and electronic cigarette vapor exposure on the oral and gut microbiota in humans: a pilot study is readily available via Peerj.  

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