Several companies are selling vaporizers that let you inhale vitamins, essential oils, and herbal supplements. But is this trend safe… or even needed?
First, vaping was a way to kick the cigarette habit. Then it was just plain cool.
Now it’s a “healthy” activity, say companies that are pushing people to vape vitamins, herbal supplements, and essential oils.
At least three companies have embraced this new vape trend. One markets its vitamin B-12 vaporizer as containing “10 times the amount found in a typical B-12 shot,” alongside pictures of fresh fruits and berries (none of which contain vitamin B-12, by the way).
Another sells vape juice that contains vitamins, essential oils, and organic flavor waters, with the motto “if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t inhale it.”
But just because you eat something, does that mean it’s safe to inhale a vapor made from it? (Imagine relaxing at home with a savory organic, free-range chicken vape.)
Or is it even an effective way to boost your health?
There’s very little research to answer either of these questions, but here’s what we do know about vaping vitamins.
IS VAPING VITAMINS SAFE?
According to a report released earlier this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, studies show that e-cigarette vapor contains fewer kinds and lower levels of toxic chemicals than cigarette smoke.
However, combustible cigarette smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, with at least 70 known to cause cancer. So being “less harmful” is an easy bar to reach.
One good thing about the herbal and vitamin vape liquids is that they are free of nicotine, which is highly addictive.
Still, one study found that even non-nicotine e-cigarettes may be a gateway to cigarette smoking among teens.
Some companies selling “healthy” vape liquids also market their products as containing organic ingredients and no chemicals.
But heating the vape liquid to create vapor can produce chemicals that weren’t in the original liquid. The NAS report points out that the chemicals in the vapor depend upon the flavorings and other compounds in the vape juice, as well as how the device is used.
This is why scientists test the vapor — sometimes on multiple vaporizers — not just the vape liquid.
Compared to combustible cigarettes, e-cigarettes have only been around for a short time, so there’s less research available on their safety.
“We really don’t know what the long-term effects of vaping is going to be. It’s a relatively new trend and we haven’t seen enough data in long-term users to determine what the health effects are going to be,” said Dr. Adam Lackey, chief of thoracic surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, in Staten Island, New York.
These risks are in line with what happens from long-term exposure to small particulate air pollution, which the World Health Organization says can lead to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancers.
“The lungs are not designed to breathe in anything other than clean air,” said Lackey. “That can be hard to do in urban areas. But why make it even harder by intentionally inhaling vapors and fumes?”
CAN VAPING IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH?
Before you even think about whether vaping vitamins and supplements is good for your health, you have to consider whether you need them in the first place.
“In the setting of a healthy well-balanced diet, there really isn’t even an indication for most people to take multivitamins,” said Lackey. “Of course, very few people these days truly have a well-balanced diet.”
Multiple studies have found that taking multivitamins orally doesn’t reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, or early death.
As for herbal and other natural supplements, some may be effective for certain conditions. But there’s often limited research to back up the health claims.
What’s needed is research showing that inhaling things like vitamin B-12 or echinacea is safe and actually works.
“There would really be no purpose in taking vitamins and supplements through inhalation if they didn’t have the same effect as taking them through an oral route,” said Lackey.
As with smoking cigarettes, it can take years of long-term use, though, for some health problems to show up.
Some people do have difficulty absorbing certain vitamins — such as folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C — through their small intestine.
But Lackey still thinks in these cases, “the best route of administration is going to be under a doctor’s supervision and likely intravenous or intramuscular. Everything else can come in the form of diet or oral supplementation.”
Speaking of diet, food is a great way — although maybe not as sexy as vaping — to get your vitamins.
“We have an exquisitely designed gastrointestinal track whose sole purpose is to break down, absorb, and metabolize vitamins and nutrients,” said Lackey.