Most of us don’t voluntarily we eat plastic, but that doesn’t mean we don’t eat it every day. Microplastics, which are tiny fragments of plastic, are everywhere, including inside our bodies, according to a growing body of research. For the first time, researchers have found that 17 out of 22 people have microplastics from common products in their blood, according to a May 2021 article published in the journal International environment1.
« This is the first study to identify the plastics we know are in containers, plastic bottles, clothes and other products we use, inside people, » Andrea De Vizcaya-Ruiz, PhDassociate professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University University of California Irvine, says SELF. The two most common types of plastic found in the study were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make plastic water bottles and clothing fibers, and polystyrene, which is found in food packaging. , disposable utensils and straws.
In March 2022, researchers published a paper with another novel finding: 11 out of 13 people had microplastics in their lungs, according to the study published in The science of the total environment2. Many other studies confirm that we regularly consume plastic, Kelly Johnson-Arbour, MDtoxicologist doctor at MedStar Health in Washington, DC, and co-medical director of the National Capital Poison Center, says SELF. « Microplastics have been found in human saliva, scalp hair and feces, suggesting that we are all susceptible to regular exposure to these plastic fragments, » she says.
Researchers are still exploring what this means for human health, but SELF spoke to experts about what we know.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, less than 5mm long, that are created in two ways. Primary microplastics3 are made to make things like microfibers4, found in synthetic fabrics, or plastic microbeads, found in some cosmetics. Secondary microplastics form after breaking away from larger plastic products such as water bottles, auto parts, and product packaging.
Biodegradable items such as a banana naturally break down until they finally dissolve. But many plastics never break down completely. They get smaller and smaller over time, but the pieces stay in our environment as pollution for hundreds of years, leading to secondary microplastics, says Dr. De Vizcaya-Ruiz.
OK but Why are the microplastics in our body?
Microplastics can be found in our water, air, food and soil, so they are unavoidable.
« When humans consume food, drink water, or breathe air contaminated with microplastics, the plastic fragments can enter the body, » says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. Some estimates show that Americans consume and breathe between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastic fragments each year.5according to Dr. Johnson-Arbor.
But how exactly do these plastics get into our blood? After consuming food or water containing microplastics, researchers suspect that these tiny particles make their way to the gut, through the intestinal membrane and into the bloodstream, says Dr. De Vizcaya-Ruiz. Something similar can happen when microplastics enter the bloodstream after being inhaled and passing through the membrane of the lungs.
How do microplastics affect human health?
Plastic may be ubiquitous now, but it’s only been widely used for about 70 years6meaning there aren’t many studies looking at what types of plastics can affect human health and in what amounts.