Mysterious lung illnesses have appeared in 49 different states over recent weeks, and authorities quickly linked them to e-cigarette use or “vaping.” The CDC has been urging consumers to steer clear of vaping while it investigated, and there’s been a break in the case. The CDC reports that all samples of damaged lung tissue contained traces of vitamin E acetate, and that’s something that should not be in your lungs.
Since the CDC began investigating the outbreak of “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury” (EVALI) in August, doctors have reported over 2,000 cases. Authorities now believe EVALI has contributed to several dozen deaths. The agency received bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid samples from affected patients in 10 different states. It says all those samples contained vitamin E acetate, which is an additive in some e-cigarette products.
Vitamin E is a group of eight similar compounds that are a necessary part of the human diet. You’re supposed to get between 7 and 15 mg of vitamin E, and most people far exceed that. In the body, vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant that protects your cells from free radicals. Taking a pill or using a lotion with vitamin E is fine, and no one should stop doing so on account of the recent lung disease outbreak.
As the CDC’s Dr. James Pirkle explained at the latest news conference, vitamin E doesn’t belong in your lungs. It’s “enormously sticky,” and could contribute to the type of damage associated with EVALI. The exact mechanism remains unclear at this time. The researchers are also careful to point out that there could be other compounds at work here. The CDC did look for other theorized contaminants, but detected none.
The CDC previously reported that most patient samples showed the presence of THC, the active chemical in cannabis. According to updated guidance, 82 percent of the vaping products tested contained THC, while 62 percent contained nicotine. In addition to the general e-cigarette guidance, the CDC says people should not use THC vaping products, particularly those purchased from online sources or obtained from friends. Vitamin E oil may be added to illicitly manufactured THC vape products as a thickening agent. There are legally produced THC vaping products in some states, but better to be safe than sorry. For now, the investigation continues, but the discovery of vitamin E in all lung samples is a significant breakthrough.
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