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Microplastics are being found in our blood streams and organs… Now what?

Plastic bag in the ocean contributing to microplastics.

Microplastics have permeated every corner of the globe, from the peak of Mount Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench. Alarmingly, these minute particles are not just confined to the environment but have made their way into human bodies, triggering a potential health crisis that demands immediate and rigorous scientific attention. This article delves into the pervasive issue of microplastics, exploring their pathways into the human system, the implications for health, and the current and necessary future responses to mitigate their impact.


As a Naturopathic doctor and mother of 2 young growing kids, the impact of microplastics scares me a lot! In our house we use stainless-steel water bottles and glass and stainless-steel lunch boxes to limit our plastic exposure.


Entry Routes and Detection of Microplastics in Humans

Microplastics, defined as plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters in size, enter the human body primarily through ingestion and inhalation. Recent studies have highlighted alarming evidence of microplastics in essential human tissues and fluids such as lungs, placentas, breast milk, and even bloodstreams. For instance, a groundbreaking study in the Netherlands detected microplastic particles in 77% of blood samples from a group of healthy adults, signaling an undeniable entry of these particles into the circulatory system.

 

Health Risks Associated with Microplastics



The health implications of microplastics are profound and multifaceted. Studies have identified potential dangers such as inflammation, disruption of the gut microbiome, and even interference with hormonal functions due to the chemical additives found in plastics. For example, substances like Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, commonly found in microplastics, are known endocrine disruptors and have been linked to various reproductive and developmental health issues.


Persistent Inflammation and Immune Response

Microplastics can provoke a persistent inflammatory response in the human body. Initial findings suggest that when microplastics accumulate in tissues, they can irritate and damage cellular structures, leading to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation isparticularly concerning for lung health, where inhaled microplastics can contribute to respiratory issues akin to those caused by other particulate matter. Chronic inflammation also causes cells to mutate and which can lead to cancer...


Current Research and Knowledge Gaps

Despite the increasing documentation of microplastics in various human tissues, significant gaps remain in our understanding of how these particles interact with the human body. The scale of human exposure, the bioaccumulation of microplastics, and their long-term health effects are not yet fully understood. Ongoing research efforts, such as the Polyrisk project under the CUSP initiative, aim to address these gaps by studying microplastic exposure in real-life scenarios, including high-risk environments like indoor sports stadiums and areas with heavy traffic. Frankly, I would like to see research into the effects of plastic coatings on food packaging and the use of dishwasher pods too…


Global Strategies for Reducing Exposure and Mitigating Risks

To combat the microplastic crisis, both preventive and remedial measures are crucial. Here are several strategies that could be effective:

  • Enhancing Waste Management: Improved recycling, waste management, and innovations in plastic manufacturing can reduce the volume of microplastics released into the environment.

  • Regulatory Measures: Implementing stricter regulations on plastic production and waste, and banning high-risk plastics can significantly decrease microplastic pollution.

  • Public Awareness and Education: Increasing public awareness about the sources of microplastic exposure and how to minimize it can play a vital role in tackling this issue.


Personal Strategies for Reducing Exposure to Microplastics:


Hot Beverages should be drunk from ceramic or stainless-steel mugs to avoid microplastics.
Opting for ceramic mugs reduces your plastic exposure.
  1. Avoid Bottled Water and Food Storage containers: Opt for tap or filtered water instead of bottled water to minimize consumption of microplastics often found in plastic bottles. If you have food stored in plastic containers, do not reheat the food in those containers.

  2. Choose Natural Fibers: Wear clothing made from organic or natural materials instead of synthetic fibers which release microplastics during washing.

  3. Modify Laundry Habits: Wash synthetic clothes less frequently and use a washing bag to catch fibers, reducing the release of microplastics.

  4. Select Natural Products: Opt for natural materials in products like flooring and tea bags instead of synthetic alternatives that can shed microplastics.

  5. Avoid Single-Use Plastics: Reduce usage of single-use plastics like bags, cutlery, and straws to decrease overall microplastic pollution. Ringing your own ceramic or stainless-steel coffee mug with your to your favorite barista is also a great ways to avoid daily microplastic exposure.

  6. Care with Cosmetics: Avoid personal care products containing microbeads or other plastic components that can wash off into water systems. Several major cosmetics brands have been identified for using plastics in their products. A study highlighted that almost 90% of products from popular brands contain microplastics. Notably, brands such as L'Oréal Paris, Elvive/Elseve, Garnier, Nivea, Gillette, Oral-B, Head & Shoulders, and Dove are among those mentioned for their use of microplastics.

 

Read your Body Care Products Labels for Microplastics: 

Common names of microplastics found in beauty products include these ingredients:

·       Polyethylene (PE)

·       Polypropylene (PP)

·       Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

·       Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)

·       Nylon (PA)

 

Check your beauty products for microplastics using the free App Beat the Micro Bead.


A woman washing her face with a foam cleaner that has no endocrine disrupting microplastics.
Microplastics have been found in 9 of 10 major skin care brands.

 

Conclusion

The infiltration of microplastics into human bodies represents a disturbing escalation in the broader environmental crisis of plastic pollution. While the full health implications are still emerging, the evidence thus far points to a clear and present risk that requires an urgent and concerted response from governments, researchers, and the global community. Understanding the pathways of exposure and effectively reducing them is not just necessary but imperative for public health. There are many things you can do starting today to reduce your personal exposure to Microplastics including bringing your own coffee mug when getting your afternoon coffee. Know that we know microplastics are in our bodies we can take swift action to protect ourselves and our environment.

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