Microplastics Affect Health

How Microplastics Affect Health

How Microplastics Affect Health And How To Avoid Them

There is no doubt that microplastics affect health. From endocrine and immune dysfunction to microbiome and skin disruption, there are countless studies on the dangers of plastics. Even worse, microplastics are everywhere – on land, in the air, in your water, in your food, and in rivers, lakes, and oceans. 

Microplastics are small plastic particles that are less than 5 millimeters in diameter. They come from a variety of sources, such as industrial processes, consumer products, and the breakdown of larger plastic items. Microplastics accumulate in various environments due to their small size and ability to be transported by wind, water, and animals. They have been found in high concentrations in urban areas, coastal regions, and even remote locations such as polar regions and deep-sea sediments. These tiny particles have become increasingly prevalent in our environment and are causing growing concern due to their impact on human health.

In aquatic environments, microplastics tend to accumulate near the surface of the water where they are mistaken for food by marine animals. On land, microplastics accumulate in soil and sediment, which have negative effects on plant growth and ecosystem health. They have also been found in agricultural fields where they contaminate crops and enter the food chain.

It wasn’t until recently that we understood how many microplastics we have been consuming. Specifically, new research has found that a typical plastic bottle of water that you see nearly everyone drinking out of contains hundreds of thousands of micro-nano sized plastics. Micro-nano sized plastics (MNPs) are tiny plastic particles, ranging in size from 1 nanometer to 5 millimeters.1

Even more concerning, Consumer Reports found phthalates, a chemical added to plastics, in 84 out of 85 different fast foods and foods found in the supermarket. Additionally, they found that 79% of the food tested also contained BPA.2 More on both of these chemicals later.

Ingestion of microplastics have negative impacts on our health. These plastic particles are small enough to pass through the body’s natural filtration systems and end up in our organs, including the liver and kidneys. This is a cause for concern as these plastics disrupt our hormonal balance.3

How Microplastics Affect Health – Endocrine Disruption

Microplastics often contain chemicals that mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system, leading to a range of health issues. These chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, interfere with the body’s natural hormone systems and cause hormonal imbalances. Some of the most common types of microplastics that have been found to contain these chemicals include bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Endocrine disruptors found in microplastics have been linked to various health problems, including reproductive and developmental abnormalities as well as immune system dysfunction. This is because the endocrine system plays a key role in regulating many bodily functions such as metabolism, growth and development, mood regulation, and sexual function.4

Several studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals causes disruptions in the natural hormone balance in the body, leading to adverse health effects. For example, BPA has been found to mimic estrogen, a female sex hormone, and can potentially disrupt the reproductive system by interfering with normal hormone functions. Similarly, phthalates have been linked to reduced sperm quality and motility in men.5 6

How Microplastics Affect Health

How Microplastics Affect Health – Immune System Dysfunction

One of the potential impacts of microplastics on our health is immune system dysfunction. Our immune system is responsible for protecting our body against harmful substances, such as viruses and bacteria, by recognizing and responding to them. However, exposure to microplastics disrupt this delicate balance and cause various complications in the immune response.

Studies have shown that microplastics accumulate in different organs and tissues of the body, including the spleen, liver, and lymph nodes. This accumulation triggers an inflammatory response in these organs, leading to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health issues, including autoimmune diseases and allergies.7

Moreover, microplastics have been found to disrupt the communication between immune cells. This communication is vital for a coordinated response against foreign invaders. Disruption of this communication impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off infections and diseases.8

How Microplastics Affect Health – Microbiome Dysfunction

Ingested microplastics cause damage to the lining of the intestines, leading to digestive issues and nutrient absorption problems. This damage also impacts the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut microbiome, leading to microbiome dysfunction.

Microbiome is a term used to describe the community of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. The gut microbiome plays an important role in maintaining overall health by aiding in digestion, regulating metabolism, and supporting the immune system.

When microplastics disrupt the balance of bacteria in our gut microbiome, it has serious consequences for our health. Studies have shown that microbiome dysfunction is linked to a variety of health issues including obesity, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health disorders.9

One reason for this is because certain species of bacteria in the gut are responsible for producing essential vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need to function properly. When these bacteria are disrupted by microplastics, it leads to deficiencies in these essential nutrients.10

Going full circle, microbiome dysfunction weakens the immune system. This is because a healthy gut microbiome helps to train the immune system and fight off harmful pathogens.11

Read more about the microbiome.

How Microplastics Affect Health – Skin Issues

Our skin is the largest organ in our body and serves as a protective barrier against external threats. However, this barrier is not impenetrable, and studies have shown that microplastics can be absorbed into our skin through various pathways such as hair follicles and sweat glands. This leads to the accumulation of microplastics in our skin, which can cause various skin issues such as irritation, inflammation, and allergic reactions.12

Microplastics act as irritants to our skin due to their small size and sharp edges. These particles can penetrate deep into our skin and cause physical irritation, leading to redness, itching, and rashes. Moreover, the accumulation of these particles in our skin also disrupts the normal functioning of our sebaceous glands, leading to acne breakouts.

Studies have shown that microplastics can trigger an inflammatory response in our skin cells. When these particles enter our skin, they can cause damage to our cells’ membranes, leading to an increase in inflammation. Prolonged exposure to microplastics causes chronic inflammation, which leads to various skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis.

Microplastics also increase the risk of UV damage to our skin. These particles act as a magnifying glass, intensifying the harmful effects of UV rays on our skin. This can lead to premature aging and wrinkles.13

How Microplastics Affect Health - Skin Issues

How Microplastics Affect Health – Mental Health

The effects of microplastics on our health are not only limited to physical harm but can also have a significant impact on mental health. Studies have shown that exposure to microplastics leads to increased stress and anxiety levels, as well as changes in behavior and brain function.14

Exposure to microplastics has been associated with changes in behavior, particularly among children. Research has shown that children who are exposed to high levels of microplastics tend to exhibit behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty with self-regulation. These behaviors have a significant impact on a child’s mental health and affects their social and academic development.15

In addition to affecting our behavior, exposure to microplastics has also been linked to impaired brain function. Studies have shown that microplastics can cross the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the brain, leading to inflammation and oxidative stress. This results in cognitive decline and memory problems.

Another concerning mental health effect of microplastic exposure is an increased risk of depression. Studies have found that individuals who are exposed to high levels of microplastics have a higher likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression. This is likely due to the disruptive effects of microplastics on hormone levels and neurotransmitter functioning in the brain.16

How To Avoid Microplastics

Since it doesn’t look like humanity is going to stop producing plastic or clean up plastic waste anytime soon, it is up to you to avoid microplastics. To reduce your consumption of microplastics, stop drinking out of plastic water bottles. Instead, opt for reusable water bottles made from materials such as glass or stainless steel. While tap water doesn’t have as many microplastics, that doesn’t mean it is healthier for you. Ideally, find a reputable spring with excellent quality water or use a filtration system for your water.

Read more about the toxins in tap water.

In addition to using reusable water bottles, there are other ways to avoid microplastics. When grocery shopping, choose items with minimal or no plastic packaging. Bring your own bags and containers when buying bulk goods to avoid single-use plastics. Finally, look for clothing made from natural materials instead of synthetic ones.

Read more about avoiding common toxins.

References

1 Qian N, Gao X, Lang X, Deng H, Bratu T, Chen Q, Stapleton P, Yan B, Min W. (2024, January 8). Rapid single-particle chemical imaging of nanoplastics by SRS microscopy. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2300582121

2 Friedman, L. F. (2024, January 4). The plastic chemicals hiding in your food. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/health/food-contaminants/the-plastic-chemicals-hiding-in-your-food-a7358224781/

3 Goodman KE, Hua T, Sang QA. Effects of Polystyrene Microplastics on Human Kidney and Liver Cell Morphology, Cellular Proliferation, and Metabolism. ACS Omega. 2022 Sep 19;7(38):34136-34153. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.2c03453. PMID: 36188270; PMCID: PMC9520709.

4 Ullah S, Ahmad S, Guo X, Ullah S, Ullah S, Nabi G, Wanghe K. A review of the endocrine disrupting effects of micro and nano plastic and their associated chemicals in mammals. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2023 Jan 16;13:1084236. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.1084236. PMID: 36726457; PMCID: PMC9885170.

5 Vom Saal FS, Vandenberg LN. Update on the Health Effects of Bisphenol A: Overwhelming Evidence of Harm. Endocrinology. 2021 Mar 1;162(3):bqaa171. doi: 10.1210/endocr/bqaa171. PMID: 33516155; PMCID: PMC7846099.

6 Wang Y, Qian H. Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health. Healthcare (Basel). 2021 May 18;9(5):603. doi: 10.3390/healthcare9050603. PMID: 34069956; PMCID: PMC8157593.

7 Yang W, Jannatun N, Zeng Y, Liu T, Zhang G, Chen C, Li Y. Impacts of microplastics on immunity. Front Toxicol. 2022 Sep 27;4:956885. doi: 10.3389/ftox.2022.956885. PMID: 36238600; PMCID: PMC9552327.

8 Lai H, Liu X, Qu M. Nanoplastics and Human Health: Hazard Identification and Biointerface. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2022 Apr 11;12(8):1298. doi: 10.3390/nano12081298. PMID: 35458006; PMCID: PMC9026096.

9 Jiménez-Arroyo C, Tamargo A, Molinero N, Moreno-Arribas MV. The gut microbiota, a key to understanding the health implications of micro(nano)plastics and their biodegradation. Microb Biotechnol. 2023 Jan;16(1):34-53. doi: 10.1111/1751-7915.14182. Epub 2022 Nov 22. PMID: 36415969; PMCID: PMC9803334.

10 Chae Y, Kim D, Choi MJ, Cho Y, An YJ. Impact of nano-sized plastic on the nutritional value and gut microbiota of whiteleg shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei via dietary exposure. Environ Int. 2019 Sep;130:104848. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2019.05.042. Epub 2019 Jul 17. PMID: 31325904.

11 Lambring CB, Siraj S, Patel K, Sankpal UT, Mathew S, Basha R. Impact of the Microbiome on the Immune System. Crit Rev Immunol. 2019;39(5):313-328. doi: 10.1615/CritRevImmunol.2019033233. PMID: 32422014; PMCID: PMC7362776.

12 Yee MS, Hii LW, Looi CK, Lim WM, Wong SF, Kok YY, Tan BK, Wong CY, Leong CO. Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2021 Feb 16;11(2):496. doi: 10.3390/nano11020496. PMID: 33669327; PMCID: PMC7920297.

13 Yee MS, Hii LW, Looi CK, Lim WM, Wong SF, Kok YY, Tan BK, Wong CY, Leong CO. Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2021 Feb 16;11(2):496. doi: 10.3390/nano11020496. PMID: 33669327; PMCID: PMC7920297.

14 Chen X, Xu L, Chen Q, Su S, Zhuang J, Qiao D. Polystyrene micro- and nanoparticles exposure induced anxiety-like behaviors, gut microbiota dysbiosis and metabolism disorder in adult mice. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2023 Jul 1;259:115000. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2023.115000. Epub 2023 May 19. PMID: 37210994.

15 Amran NH, Zaid SSM, Mokhtar MH, Manaf LA, Othman S. Exposure to Microplastics during Early Developmental Stage: Review of Current Evidence. Toxics. 2022 Oct 10;10(10):597. doi: 10.3390/toxics10100597. PMID: 36287877; PMCID: PMC9611505.

16 Prüst M, Meijer J, Westerink RHS. The plastic brain: neurotoxicity of micro- and nanoplastics. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2020 Jun 8;17(1):24. doi: 10.1186/s12989-020-00358-y. PMID: 32513186; PMCID: PMC7282048.

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