September 30, 2019
Emerging evidence is bringing to light a new concern. I am finding that I am becoming haunted by the never ending stream of negative news in regards to our environment. I have yet to meet a human that does not want clean air, water and food, yet, we are slowly having none of these.
The reality is that micro and nano size plastic particles are entering our bodies through our food and water supply chain. In a September 2019 study, a group from McGill University in Canada stated:
"We show that steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage." (Hernandex et. al. 2019) They used a nylon and polyethylene teabag as the plastic source to study as this type of tea bag is in common use today. This cannot be a good event at your dinner table!
Globally, billions of pounds of plastic material are polluting our oceans, rivers and lakes. As they degrade over time, microparticles of plastic can enter an aquatic food chain potentially finding their way to our plates and our bodies. "A 2016 UN report documented over 800 animal species contaminated with plastic via ingestion or entanglement-a figure 69% greater than that reported in a 1977 review, which estimated only 247 contaminated species. Of these 800 species, 220 have been found to ingest microplastic debris in natura." (Smith et. al. 2018)
Are these micro/nano plastics harmful? The jury is still out, however let's read from a few of the studies:
"Microplastics (MPs) are a significant environmental health issue and increasingly greater source of concern. MPs have been detected in oceans, rivers, sediments, sewages, soil and even table salts. MPs exposure on marine organisms and humans has been documented, but information about the toxicity of MPs in mammal is limited. Here we used fluorescent and pristine polystyrene microplastics particles to investigate the tissue distribution, accumulation, and tissue-specific health risk of MPs in mice. Results indicated that MPs accumulated in liver, kidney and gut, with a tissue-accumulation kinetics and distribution pattern that was strongly depended on the MPs particle size. In addition, analyses of multiple biochemical biomarkers and metabolomic profiles suggested that MPs exposure induced disturbance of energy and lipid metabolism as well as oxidative stress. Interestingly, blood biomarkers of neurotoxicity were also altered. Our results uncovered the distribution and accumulation of MPs across mice tissues and revealed significant alteration in several biomarkers that indicate potential toxicity from MPs exposure. Collectively, our data provided new evidence for the adverse consequences of MPs." (Weng et. al. 2017)
"The physical effects of accumulated microplastics are less understood than the distribution and storage of toxicants in the human body, but preliminary research has demonstrated several potentially concerning impacts, including enhanced inflammatory response, size-related toxicity of plastic particles, chemical transfer of adsorbed chemical pollutants, and disruption of the gut microbiome." "Mammalian systems modeling suggests that microplastics with certain characteristics can translocate across living cells, such as M cells or dendritic cells, to the lymphatic and/or circulatory system, accumulate in secondary organs, and impact the immune system and cell health". (Smith et. al. 2018)
I highly encourage you to read the Smith article in Current Environmental Health Reports.
The bottom line from the accumulated research is that microplastics are likely not good for us and will most likely drive disease risk through local tissue inflammation. This remains to be definitively proven but is historically what happens inside mammalian tissues when exposed to xenobiotics in increasing concentrations.
Inflammation then causes a snowball effect inside a local cell leading to cellular damage, potential exposure of cell debris to the immune system causing a neoantigen to form beginning auto-reactivity or worse yet DNA damage leading to cancer genesis.
As with all things, look hard at the data and decide how you wish to proceed. A first great step would be for us all to reduce our use of plastics especially water bottles. Carry a Yeti, hydro flask or a knockoff brand everywhere to have access to clean water. Eat smaller fish in limited quantities, i.e. 2-3 x per week. Avoid the bigger fish as they tend to concentrate more toxin per square inch of flesh. Make sure that you are not constipated as this prevents the natural removal of the plastics through your stool.
Deng Nature Scientific Reports Article
Newsweek Microplastics Article
Schwabe Annals of Internal Medicine Article
Hernandez Environmental Sciences and Tech Article
Smith Current Environmental Health Reports Article
EWG Microbead Article