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Put Down the Vape: Even Tobacco-Free E-Cigarettes Might Damage DNA

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E-cigarettes (a.k.a. vaporizers or vapes) aren't necessarily a safe substitute for the real thing. Smoking tobacco-free e-cigarettes still damages the users' DNA, increases the rate of genetic mutations, and raises the risk of cancer, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and spotted by Technology Networks.

E-cigarettes are often touted as a healthier way for nicotine addicts to get their fix because vaporizers don't contain tobacco. Smokers inhale water vapor from liquefied nicotine, which doesn't contain the same kinds of cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco-based cigarettes. But the current study findings call that assumption into question.

Researchers from New York University School of Medicine exposed the mice to smoke for three months, and then examined their DNA. They found adducts, a form of DNA damage in which a piece of the genetic material bonds to a chemical. This alters the DNA structure and can increase the risk of mutation. DNA can repair itself, but, the researchers observed, the repair protein levels had also dropped.

To see if e-cigarette smoke would affect humans similarly, they also exposed lung, heart, and bladder cells to nicotine and nitrosamine, a carcinogenic chemical compound formed by the human body when it processes nicotine. Nitrosamines can cause tumors to form, and sub-chemicals can bind to and alter DNA.

These human cells showed the same type of DNA damage found in mice that had been exposed to e-cigarette smoke. The nicotine predisposed the cells to undergo two to four times more spontaneous mutations after additional exposure to environmental triggers, like UV rays.

"Based on these results, I cannot conclude that e-cig smoke is safer than tobacco smoke in terms of cancer susceptibility of smokers," study co-author Moon-shong Tang said, according to Technology Networks.

[h/t Technology Networks]

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How Promoting Handwashing Got One 19th Century Doctor Institutionalized
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Regardless of how often we actually do it, it's common knowledge that washing our hands before eating, after coughing, and after using the bathroom is good for us. But the connection between handwashing and health wasn't always accepted as fact. As Danielle Bainbridge explains in the PBS web series Origin of Everything, the first doctor to campaign for cleanliness in hospitals was not only shunned by other medical professionals, but ended up in an insane asylum.

Prior to the 19th century, handwashing primarily existed in the context of religious ceremonies and practices. It plays a role in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Buddhism in some form or another. But washing up to stop the spread of disease wasn't really a thing for most of history. People weren't aware of germs, so instead of microbes, they blamed illness on everything from demons to bad air.

Then, in 1846, a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis made a breakthrough observation. He noticed that women giving birth with the help of midwives were less likely to die than those treated by doctors. He determined that because doctors were also performing autopsies on victims of puerperal fever (a bacterial infection also known as childbed fever), they were somehow spreading the disease to their other patients. Semmelweis started promoting handwashing and instrument sterilization in his clinic, and the spread of puerperal fever dropped as a result.

Despite the evidence to support his theory, his peers in the medical community weren't keen on the idea of blaming patient deaths on doctors. Partly due to his commitment to the controversial theory, Semmelweis was shunned from his field. He suffered a mental breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital, where he died a few weeks later.

Germ theory did eventually become more mainstream as the century progressed, and washing hands as a way to kill unseen pathogens started gaining popularity. Even so, it wasn't until the 1980s that the CDC released the first official guidelines instructing people on best handwashing practices.

If this story suddenly has you in the mood to practice good hygiene, here's the best way to wash your hands, according to experts.

[h/t Origin of Everything]

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Inhaling Cleaning Product Fumes Can Be as Bad for You as a Pack-a-Day Smoking Habit, Study Finds
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People who use spray cleaners on a regular basis may want to reconsider how they tackle their spring cleaning. A new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine [PDF] offers strong evidence that inhalation of these sterilizing and polishing chemicals may be as bad for their lungs as smoking one pack of cigarettes per day, as Newsweek highlights.

A team of scientists led by Cecile Svanes, Ph.D. at Norway’s University of Bergen tracked 6230 study subjects for two decades, looking for a correlation between diminished lung capacity and use of cleaning products. Those who regularly used chemicals for cleaning, like housekeepers, displayed worsening lung function when researchers asked them to blow air into a tube. Even using cleaners once per week was associated with reduced lung capacity.

Those who reported use of the products also had increased rates of asthma when compared to those who did not use cleaners. It’s believed the particles of the abrasive chemicals are damaging the mucus membranes, leading to steady and progressive changes. The results applied to both occupational cleaners as well as those who were responsible for cleaning at home. The study also demonstrated that women were more susceptible to the effects of the chemicals than men, although a comparatively smaller number of men took part.

What can you do to mitigate the risk? Oistein Svanes, a doctoral student who worked on the project, recommends cleaning with a damp microfiber cloth using only water. If you feel you must use a chemical agent, it's better to pour it into a bucket instead of relying on a spray nozzle—the latter is what causes the chemicals to become airborne and respirable.

[h/t Newsweek]

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