Microplastics Discovered in Human Stools Across the Globe
BY ANDERSON MILLAN
It is an unfortunate fact that plastics have contaminated our environment to such a great degree. Now, in one of the first studies of its kind, Austrian researchers have discovered the presence of Microplastics in the human gut as well.
Microplastics are tiny particles or pieces of plastic, ranging from 10 nanometres to 5 millimetres in diameter. Pollution of the oceans by tiny pieces of plastic debris is now so widespread … Microplastics , are easily ingested by fish, mussels and other sea animals. These new findings say that we may be unknowingly ingesting these plastics, the results of which remains unclear for now.
Microplastic and nanoplastic particles in food were first flagged as a potential future food safety issue by EFSA’s Emerging Risks Exchange Network, which is composed of national food safety experts. Based on this work, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) requested the current review by EFSA.
The Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria recruited a small group of people from around the world. The group consisted of eight healthy individuals from Finland, Russia, Italy, Japan, Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Austria.
They were all monitored with the help of food logs which showed what they were eating during the week before their stool samples were collected. While only six of them consumed fish during this period, none of the participants were vegetarians. They also consumed foods that were wrapped in plastic packaging and drank from plastic bottles.
On average, the researchers found 20 Microplastic particles per 10 grams of stool. Out of the ten types of plastics they tested for, nine were found. Among them, polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were the most common.
The question that now arises is: .Where do these Microplastics come from? The answer could not be determined from this study alone due to the small sample size.
Though, it is possible the wraps and packaging may be playing a role. Previous, studies have also shown how high levels of phthalates were found in urine samples of people who ate fast food more often.
Another cause may be tied to the dietary pattern as seafood consumption may be another medium for plastic to make its way into the human gut. Research has shown that a large number of fish are ingesting Microplastics which could indirectly contaminate food supplies.
More than 95 percent of the particles came from plastics used in food packaging and storage. They included polypropylene used in bottle caps, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used in drink bottles, polystyrene found in plastic utensils and cups, and polyethylene used in plastic bags and storage containers.
“This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases,” said Dr. Philipp Schwabl, a lead researcher who will present the findings at the 26th United European Gastroenterology conference in Vienna, Austria, on Oct. 23.
Some of the concerns around Microplastics stems from their ability to absorb and, once eaten, release different types of chemical compounds. This sounds scary, but as we just discussed, the amount of Microplastic particles an average person would ingest is already likely too low to lead to any health problems.
“While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest Microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver. Now that we have first evidence for Microplastics inside humans, further researches are needed to understand what this means for human health,” Schwabl said.
Inside the gut, the Microplastics could cause intestinal damage or alter the shape of the villi that line the intestinal wall, said Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.