Smoking electronic cigarettes, (e-cigarettes), more commonly called vaping, has often been touted as safer than smoking by companies trying to sell smokers on their products.
But the FDA has found that e-cigarette cartridges and their often sweetly flavored solutions may contain harmful contaminants such as nitrosamines, diethylene glycol, and others. Now, a new study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society found that vaping may also have negative impacts on fertility. It builds upon previous research that found that e-cigarette exposure in utero in mice, “causes changes in metabolic, inflammatory, neurological, and pulmonary factors within exposed offspring.”
In the new study, pregnant mice were exposed five times a week to e-cigarette vapor or a control sham. After four months, the pregnant mothers who had been exposed to the vapor showed a significant delay in the onset of the first litter. Further evidence showed impaired embryo implantation, despite high levels of progesterone, the hormone that is one indicator of pregnancy.
The researchers conclude that the effects on mice should serve as a cautionary tale for human women. Rachel McConnell, MD, OB/GYN, a reproductive endocrinologist in fertility and assistant professor at Columbia University Fertility Center in New York, says she believes the study is important research for fertility doctors and physicians who work with patients who are trying to become pregnant.
“What this study is essentially saying is that it may take you much longer to get pregnant if you’re using e-cigarettes,” McConnell says. “And, for patients that do complete [pregnancy] there may be a decrease in [fetal] weight gain.”
Some patients who are trying to quit smoking before they become pregnant turn to vaping as an alternative, McConnell says, but she tries to educate them away from that and toward other smoking cessation products. “I encourage patients who are smokers to use methods that are already approved by the FDA that we know can decrease smoking. Vaping is not one of those.”
She says that cigarette use is also linked to a decrease in egg quality and the impairment of sperm. “So [vaping nicotine] may increase the chances of having more difficulty in achieving pregnancy. And we also know that with more cigarette use, not only do we see a decrease in the quality of the eggs, but we see women go through menopause in a much earlier age compared to those that do not smoke.”
There are significant other negative health effects from vaping as well, McConnell points out. Nicotine itself is a risk factor for cancer. She mentions studies that say the flavoring products combined with the heating of the e-cigarette apparatus together may be causing some kind of lung damage,” she explains.
“What all this is telling us from a fertility standpoint, is [vaping] is not something that you would want to introduce to your body.”