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Can glycerol do this in the body?

  1. Jun 17, 2015 #1


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    I'm trying to understand lipid pneumonia.

    It's been reported that vaping on electronic cigarettes, which contains vegetable glycerine, is the cause of lipid pneumonia. That claim is denied for the reason that vegetable glycerine is not a lipid. It's an alcohol.

    But glycerol / vegetable glycerine is also hygroscopic. Does that mean that glycerol can draw the body's fat into the lungs, resulting in lipid pneumonia?

    I'm just putting these pieces together and I'd like to see if they make sense to others.

    Here are two articles on this topic



    Thanks for reading and I look forward to replies :)
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2015 #2
    Hygroscopic materials draw water from the air, not lipids from across cell membranes. Broadly speaking, the chemistry of lipids and water are very different. Lipids are generally non-polar and organic; water is polar and inorganic. So it is improbable that glycerin should react with both water and lipids (although some molecules, such as ethanol and acetone, can solvate both lipids and water). However, glycerin definitely draws water across cell membranes, as this is its basis for a rectal suppository for constipation. So I imagine it is not great to breath in vaporized glycerin. That said, it's also relevant the MSDS from Sigma Aldrich for glycerin lists no data available for respiratory exposure.

    It's worth noting propylene glycol, another molecule mentioned in the second article you linked to, is definitely a lipid solvent.
  4. Jun 18, 2015 #3


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    Hi RSquared,

    I wonder if inhaling heated vegetable glycerine is too new of a phenomenon for such data to be available to the MSDS. Thank you for that link.

    If glycerin draws water across cell membranes it makes sense to me that inhaled glycerin could trap water in the lungs (water, not fat, like I previously questioned). Good mention on the ethanol - ethanol is used as a sweetener in e-liquids.

    If propylene glycol is a lipid solvent (in addition to ethanol), I'm wondering if vaping provokes a catabolic endogenous response resulting in lipid pneumonia. Because the inhalants are alcohols and not lipids it can't be considered exogenous lipid pneumonia (such as, inhaling kerosene). But I might be completely misunderstanding those terms and functions.

    It seems to me that vaping can cause lipid pneumonia but it is very tricky to understand how.

    Thanks for the response. :)
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