The recent growth in use of e-cigarettes has generated a flurry of research attempting to quickly understand the potential health effects of this new alternative to traditional cigarette smoking. A new study examining the effects of "vaping" on the gut microbiome is suggesting some good news for e-cig users, with the results showing that while tobacco smoking seems to cause major changes to gut flora, those using e-cigarettes maintain similar gut bacteria diversity to non-smokers.

The study, composed of an international team of researchers from the UK and the United States, examined 30 subjects who were split into three categories: 10 tobacco smokers, 10 e-cigarette users, and 10 non-smoking controls. Fecal, mouth, and saliva samples were taken from each subject and then comprehensively gene sequenced to generate a map of each person's gut microbiome.

The results were reasonably conclusive, showing that while e-cigarette users displayed similar gut bacteria diversity to non-smokers, tobacco smokers were seen to have significantly reduced microbial diversity. The researchers referred to this reduced bacterial diversity seen in tobacco smokers as "striking," and suggest this, "may have important consequences for health and the risk of certain diseases."

This study is not without major limitations of course, given its very small cohort of just 30 subjects. Also, only two women participated in the study, so sex-specific effects of these behaviors on the microbiome is unclear.

"More investigation is needed but to find that vaping is less-damaging than smoking on our gut bacteria adds to the incentive to change to e-cigarettes and for people to use them as a tool to quit smoking completely," says lead author on the new study, Christopher Stewart.

It is only recently that researchers have begun to uncover how tobacco smoking effects a person's microbiome. As well as documenting the clear detrimental effect smoking seems to have on gut bacteria diversity, this new study valuably compares this to e-cigarette users. Many recent studies have been revealing novel potential health issues that could be manifested through e-cigarette use, so although this is a very limited, and early investigation, it may offer vapers a small bit of good news.

The study was published in the journal PeerJ.