Never have we ever heard a more 2018-ified phrase than “vaping your vitamins.” But it’s apparently a thing, and according to some studies, it actually might work; specifically for vitamin B12.
For anyone who dreads their monthly B12 shots, the concept could be a game changer. A new company called Breathe B12 has created vape pens that allow you to inhale the vitamin on your own instead of getting it intravenously by a wellness specialist. The devices look like your run-of-the-mill e-cigarettes, and allow you to atomize water containing B12 into your lungs where the tissue then absorbs it. The technology is so new, though, that science is still trying to catch up to figure out if it actually works.
In case you didn’t know, vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps with healthy blood cell formation, DNA synthesis and brain function, and a B12 deficiency can cause problems like physical weakness, fatigue and loss of appetite. It’s commonly found in animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk, and most people get as much as they need from a balanced diet. Vegans and vegetarians, though, may need to supplement their intake since the plants they eat aren’t giving them enough of the stuff.
There are also certain stomach- and immune-related conditions (like pernicious anemia and atrophic gastritis) that make it hard for your body to absorb B12 through the stomach lining—which is where those trendy B12 shots come in, because the ivitamin is administered straight into your bloodstream.
Does It Actually Work?
For anyone who isn’t down with needles but still needs their regular dose, vaping the vitamin is another way to get it into your system. “Studies have shown that inhaling B12 can be many times more efficiently absorbed than oral forms. It’s faster and more can be absorbed. Compared to shots, it’s a lot more convenient and less expensive,” a rep from the brand told us over email.
The devices come ready to go in a pack of three (which retail for $45) and offer upwards of 100 puffs each—all you have to do is put them in your mouth and breathe in. This allows your body to carry the B12-infused water into your lungs where the tissue absorbs it.
When we asked Norman H. Edelman, MD, of the American Lung Association if someone could absorb B12 into their system via vaporizing, he admitted, “I don’t know.” He continued, “It’s a very unusual thing to do, to try and administer drugs which can be readily administered in pill form—what’s the point?” Since B12 traditionally can only be administered via injection, Dr. Edelman says he would need to see definitive proof before making the call on whether or not it can be absorbed into your lungs in the way Breathe B12 claims.
The science, admittedly, is murky. According to one study—which tested B12 inhalation on six patients—while the method technically works, it’s probably not the best way to get your daily dose. ”While effective, this method of administration of vitamin B12 is not regarded as superior to that of injections and is therefore considered to have no therapeutic application. The possibility of inducing pulmonary [lung] damage is considered,” it reads.
The risks associated with vaping your vitamins are the same as those associated with vaping in general, aside from the fact that these particular pens don’t contain nicotine so they don’t carry the same risk of addiction. “Vaping causes chronic bronchitis,” says Dr. Edelman. “[But] I haven’t seen any studies that show that the vitamins themselves have deleterious effects.”
Health experts are still working to determine just how risky vaping can be, but the research is admittedly lagging. With most vape products, the dangers lie in the chemicals you’re vaping—for example, one study found that some weed pen cartridges include ammonia, which can interact negatively with your central nervous system. Because the technology is so new, there is no conclusive evidence about its long-term effects, so it’s a little up in the air as to whether or not any sort of vaping (even when it’s just vitamins) can truly be deemed “safe.”
There’s also another caveat worth mentioning when it comes to inhaling Breathe B12: The products only work for people who are deficient in B12 so are fairly useless to people who are not. “B12 is one of those vitamins that are grossly overused,” says Dr. Edelman. “There are certain medical conditions that require B12, but they’re used far in excess in that. You only need B12 if you’re deficient, and you need injections if you can’t absorb it in your GI system.”
Even so, our interest was piqued, and we had to give it a try.
How It Works
Puffing on the pen feels similar to smoking an e-cigarette, and the vapor has a fruity taste. While I can’t speak to whether or not it actually filled my body with vitamins (since I’m not B12 deficient, I wouldn’t have experienced the energy boost that’s associated with an influx of the stuff), using it over the course of a week did have one definitively positive effect: It took the place of my JUUL, another form vaporizer that is packed with nicotine and highly addictive, and that I tend to use frequently when I’m stressed (judge me, I deserve it).
JUULs are a type of trendy e-cigarette, or as the JUUL website calls them “nicotine-delivery device,” which take the place of regular cigarettes without ingredients like tobacco and tar. They have their own set of dangers, though, which include their addictive nature. The FDA is currently engaged in active studies trying to determine whether they are, in fact, safer than cigarettes.
While this isn’t exactly the result that the B12 team had in mind in creating their product (“it isn’t a cessation device,” they tell me), they admit that “it would be great if it eventually matures to be able to help people quit nicotine.”
For his part, Dr. Edelman isn’t quite on board with this theory. “[In smoking B12 pens], sure, you would stop exposing yourself to this addictive substance, but I’m guessing that’s why people vape—because they want the addictive substance, and it’s hard to imagine they would do it otherwise,” he says. “Why not just chew bubblegum?”
All I know is that “chewing bubblegum” has never gotten me to quit hitting my JUUL, so maybe—just maybe—we’re onto something here.