In recent years, microplastic contamination has become a global concern as a result of the use of plastic in modern life. There are microplastics everywhere from the deepest oceans to our bodies. As a result of their small size and mass, microplastics are easily transported by the wind and can be found even in mountainous and polar regions.
There are even microplastics in food and water. It has been discovered that they impact nearly all levels of biological organization. The article examines the health effects of microplastics in humans and provides information on what they are. Also, you’ll know in detail about the sources of microplastics in humans.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastic is a small piece of plastic that occurs in the environment due to plastic pollution. There are microplastics in everything from cosmetics to synthetic clothing to plastic bags and bottles.
Microplastics are becoming a larger problem every year. Approximately 400 million tonnes of microplastics will be produced annually by 2050.
Several factors contribute to the prevalence of airborne microplastics:
- Synthetic fibers
- Plastic product deterioration and fragmentation
- Burning of refuse
- Emissions from both industry and transportation
- Re-suspension of dust
What is the Size of Microplastics?
There are thousands of tiny plastic particles known as microplastics. According to official definitions, they are plastics with a diameter of less than five millimeters (0.2 inches), which means that it’s smaller than a pearl.
Types of Microplastics
There are two types of microplastics: primary and secondary.
Primary microplastic is composed of microscopic particles designed for commercial use, such as cosmetics, as well as microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles. A secondary microplastic is a particle produced when larger plastic items, such as water bottles, break down. The sun’s radiation and ocean waves are the main factors responsible for this breakdown.
Sources of Microplastics in Humans
There are many pathways through which food can be contaminated with plastics because soils, oceans, and air contain large amounts of microplastics. Among them are:
- Direct consumption of natural resources by animals
- Deposits on food-related surfaces such as crops
- Environmental impact on basic materials like water or salt
- Deposits on surfaces or equipment used in food processing
- Dust accumulation on food in places such as stores or homes
- Release from plastic materials that come into contact with food, notably after heating or mechanical operations (e.g., cutting, shaking, or opening packages)
There are many points at which food can be contaminated, such as food harvesting, manufacturing, packaging, and preparation and consumption.
Microplastics Found in Human Breast Milk For the First Time
A new study has found that human breast milk contains microplastics for the first time. In the study, the Italian researchers examined breast milk samples from 34 new mothers a week after they gave birth. It was published in the journal Polymers in June. A total of 26 out of these 34 samples contained microplastics.
In addition, nano plastics are so small that they can penetrate the lungs and the placenta. For this reason, nano- and microplastics could be dangerous for children.
Why are Microplastics Bad?
Although we have known for a long time that microplastics are dangerous, new research highlights exactly how much of an impact they have on the ecosystem and our health.
Due to their great persistence, microplastics are nearly impossible to remove from the environment where they gather. Studies reveal they can be highly harmful to the organisms they come into proximity with due to their persistence and the chemicals they are formed of. Additionally, they frequently make it easier for pollutants to go up the food chain, which could adversely affect people’s health.
Scientists have issued a notice that the situation is unmanageable. They have discovered microplastics in water, food, and almost everywhere they have searched for them, including in our bodies, air, as well as in mountains, the ocean, and Arctic sea ice.
How Do Microplastics Affect Humans?
As microplastics are present in the air, water, food, and consumer products, they can be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed through the skin. Scientists agree that we consume up to 100,000 microplastic particles per day, which is equivalent to around the mass of a credit card in a year. The other source of microplastics in humans is synthetic clothing.
There have been no direct studies on how microplastics affect people. Microplastics have either been tested on human cells or tissues or have been investigated in animals.
Based on the available data, microplastics may be harmful to our health. According to some researchers, they act as irritants, just like asbestos fibers, which are now known to cause cancer and inflammation in the lungs.
Several studies have shown that microplastics can interfere with hormone function, cause weight gain, and act as endocrine disruptors. The development of the brain during pregnancy, and the development of the brain in children, may be negatively impacted by certain microplastics, such as flame retardants.
Avoid Microplastics By Following These Tips
Eat fewer processed foods
A high level of microplastic is also found in highly-processed foods. It is particularly bad for children to suffer from this effect. Rather than eating processed foods, opt for whole foods.
Use filtered tap water
There are lower levels of microplastics in tap water than in bottled water. However, even tap water contains microplastics. The microplastics can be filtered effectively by a carbon block or distillation filter.
Use environmentally friendly bottles such as glass or stainless steel ones
Heat, collisions, or time gradually disintegrate plastic water bottles.
Use sustainable packaging
Microplastics can be reduced by storing food in non-plastic containers.
Do not microwave food in plastic containers
Heat accelerates the process of turning plastic into microplastic. You add more microplastic in food by heating it in plastic Tupperware and boxes.
Replace disposable cups with reusable, eco-friendly ones
When hot liquids are added to paper cups, microplastics are released into the air. Almost all of the cups’ linings are made of HDPE-grade plastic. There have been studies showing that it leaks estrogenic chemicals even though it is considered safe.
Utilize cleaning products that are free of plastic
To reduce microplastic in foods, we need to consider more than just food, packaging, and containers. Our food is less likely to contain microplastics if we use plastic-free and gentle cleaning supplies.
Limit your seafood intake
Various studies have shown that microplastic and even smaller particles called nanoparticles can not only be found in fish guts but can also move to their muscle tissue.
Use loose tea or plastic-free tea bags
The brewing of a plastic tea bag releases 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into the drink. Loose-leaf tea eliminates these microplastics.
How to Avoid Microplastics in Everyday Life?
Even though microplastics are everywhere, you can reduce your exposure to them and that of your family. In addition, you can take even greater actions to prevent microplastics from entering the environment. Here are nine guidelines that explain how.
Buy organic clothes
Clothing made from synthetic materials, such as polyester, contributes a large number of microplastics to the environment. Whenever possible, choose natural fibers such as cotton, silk, wool, hemp, and other organic materials for your clothing.
There will be microfibers in all types of materials, but the ones from natural materials, like cotton, tend to be larger than those from synthetics. It happens because cotton fibers often tangle, creating larger pieces of lint that cannot be easily expelled.
Avoid single-use plastics
The breakdown of plastic items eventually creates secondary microplastics that end up in the environment. Especially when it comes to plastic bags, the retail industry uses a lot of plastic. To reduce single-use plastic use, follow these steps:
- Bringing cloth bags or backpacks with you when you go shopping
- Using paper bags instead of disposable ones
- Shopping at supermarket stores that produce no trash
- Opting for reusable metal, glass, or bamboo straws
- Avoid single-use plastic water bottles and replace them with reusable ones
Buy plastic-free cosmetics
There are many cosmetics products that contain microbeads. Look for words indicating microbeads on labels.
Whenever possible, avoid products that contain the following ingredients:
- Polyethylene, sometimes known as PE
- Polypropylene, often known as PP
- Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or PETE, is a kind of polyester.
- PMMA, or polymethyl methacrylate
Whenever possible, choose cosmetics and household products that do not contain microbeads and that offer alternative ingredients. Natural alternatives to microbeads are often listed on product labels.
Don’t microwave your food in plastic
It’s not a good idea to use plastic in a microwave. Heating in a plastic container can release plastics.
How to filter out microplastics from your body?
The effects of microplastics on the body have not been well studied. Larger bits of plastic are known to be removed by feces, while tiny pieces are rarely absorbed. There is currently no known method to entirely filter or contain them.
How to reduce the amount of microplastics in your body?
According to existing research, microplastics are widespread, frequently enter people’s bodies by inhalation or intake of food or beverages, and make their way into critical body systems. Microplastics are also found in people’s bloodstreams and lungs.
We can reduce it by making tiny improvements. Avoid consuming liquids from plastic water bottles. Instead, use filtered tap water.
How small are Microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles with a length of less than five millimeters that could get even smaller with further degradation.
The current evidence suggests that microplastics are everywhere, and they are likely ingested through food. While microplastics are perceived as a health risk, there is currently no evidence that they affect health when consumed. In the coming decades, microplastics are likely to increase in the environment without significant global efforts, and exposure through all pathways, including food and drink, is likely to increase.
(The information in this article should not be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice.)