David Zadick, 55, was at an Oscars after-party with some friends in Hollywood when he noticed people crowding around a sponsorship booth for VitaStik, a Beverly Hills company that sells vitamin and essential oil diffuser sticks. A self-described wellness buff who works in solar energy, Zadick was intrigued. He approached the display, where representatives from the company and doctors were explaining the purported health benefits of the VitaStik: inhale this vaporised formula of essential oils and vitamins, and you’ll feel calmer, more energized, more turned on.
At first, Zadick didn’t buy the hype.
“We hit them up pretty hard on a lot of questions,” he says. “But they explained every bit of it.” The VitaStik representatives also used a tool called a spectrometer to show the chemical makeup of the VitaStik formulas, which swayed Zadick’s opinion in their favour.
Now, Zadick uses VitaStik daily; he typically huffs on its energiser formula, which is comprised of ginseng, green coffee extract, grapefruit, lemon, and orange essential oils. According to the VitaStik website, one stick of this stuff contains 20 servings of Vitamin B12 (which regulates the production of red blood cells), and roughly one recommended daily dose of Vitamins A, C, D, E, coenzyme Q10, and collagen. Zadick claims to feels an invigorating effect after just a few puffs a day. He’s even bought a VitaStik for his 25-year-old daughter.
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“I think there's too many people vaping, there's too many people smoking, but the key is they’re not using organic sources,” Zadick says. “That’s one thing I learned from the [VitaStik] doctor that day.”
E-cigarette usage, or vaping, became popular after the first e-cig was marketed in the United States in 2007. It was initially popular among teens, but adults looking for a tobacco alternative increasingly started jumping on the trend. According to the Centres for Disease Control And Prevention, 3.2 percent of U.S. adults used an e-cig in 2016; a recent study found that 2.9 million people in Great Britain have vaped.
Initially, e-liquid formulas contained a combination of nicotine, flavouring, and other chemicals that, when heated, turn the juice into an aerosol that can be inhaled. By 2014, however, more ostensibly wellness-centric companies like VitaCig and Vita Vapes hit the market, which were immediately lauded for their nicotine-free, vitamin-laden formulas. Such companies promote the idea that nutrition is just a puff away, and that it’s way more efficient to inhale your vitamins and deliver them directly into the bloodstream, than to take them orally.
That said, it's possible that getting an extra dose of vitamins isn't even necessary to begin with. Generally speaking, it's recommended that the average adult get 2.4 micrograms of B12 a day, which is easily doable if you’re eating a balanced diet.
Further, the data behind many of these claims is questionable, to say the least. One of the studies cited by VitaminVape on the efficiency of vitamin B12 inhalation, for instance, dates all the way back to 1953. Dr. Roger Clemens, associate director of the regulatory science program at USC School of Pharmacy, isn’t sold on the supposed effectiveness and potency of vitamin vapour. For Vitamin B12 to be absorbed in the body, a glycoprotein in the stomach called gastric intrinsic factor must be present, he explains. Since vaping bypasses the stomach altogether and delivers the vitamin directly into the respiratory tract, Clemens does not know what the vitamin’s effect on the body would be, since there is no up-to-date scientific research that examines the results of vitamin vapour.
“I did this work for 40 years, and I’m not aware of anybody doing inhalation safety perspective research,” he says.
Given the lack of up-to-date research on vitamin vaping, it’s hard to know what its true effects are, says Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior scientific adviser at the American Lung Association. “We know that smoking e-cigarettes causes irritation of the airwaves and bronchitis, but we don't know the long-term effects because they haven’t been around long enough,” he says.
Regarding the term "vitamin vaping," Edelman dismisses it as "just something catchy." "It's a [confusing] marketing ploy because the implication is that the stuff is healthy,” he says.
Ultimately, both Edelman and Clemens recommend skipping the vitamin vaping, saying the popularity of the trend is just a result of good old-fashioned good marketing. “Some doctors that support this say it’s harm reduction,” Edelman says, “[but] the added vitamins will give people a false sense of security.”
For the time being, however, Zadick sees no problem shelling out $20 every few weeks on a new VitaStik.
“What’s wrong with crushed up, aromatized vitamins?” he says. “If you’re trying to swallow them and digest them and get them into your blood, why not just get them go right through your mouth or your nose?”
This article originally appeared on Men's Health