Small pieces of plastic are making their way into the human gut as people eat contaminated seafood and come into contact with plastic-packaged food and drink, a study on human stools has found. What’s worrying, according to the researchers, is that the health effects of microplastics on people are unknown.
“This is the first study of its kind and confirms… that plastics ultimately reach the human gut,” said Dr. Philipp Schwabl, the lead researcher who presented the findings at the United European Gastroenterology meeting.
There isn’t any evidence so far of whether ingesting microplastics is dangerous to humans, let alone the specific effects, but the researchers believe that gastrointestinal plastic might have a clinical impact.
For example, a decrease in the gut’s immune tolerance and response could be expected if the plastics accumulate, while studies on contaminated fish and birds have suggested that microplastics can cause hepatic stress, impact iron absorption and remodel villi in the intestines.
One magazine reported that these microplastics found in humans for the first time may be leading to health and fertility problems.
A study was done in 8 countries.
Scientists at the Austrian Environment Agency and the University of Vienna analyzed stool samples of people from eight countries and found every one contained microplastics.
In some cases, nine different types of plastic were found in a single sample. On average, 20 microplastic particles per 10g of human waste were found.
Dr. Philipp Schwabl stated: “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. We need further research to understand what this means for human health.”
Microplastics are particles of plastic less than 5 millimeters and are used in various products. They also form when large pieces break down through weathering, degradation or wear and tear.
Microplastics in the body could cause complications to the immune system.
Experts fear that microplastics in the body may damage the immune system, trigger inflammation, and can help carry toxins such as mercury or pesticides into the body. In sea mammals, it is believed plastics damage fertility, reports another magazine
The subjects examined led to the conclusion that their food diaries showed that all were exposed to plastics during the week either by consuming plastic-wrapped foods or drinking from plastic bottles. Six of them consumed sea fish, that often consume microplastics.
More than 50% of the world population might have microplastics in their stools.
The Time magazine reports that the study, conducted by the Environment Agency Austria, hypothesizes that “more than 50% of the world population might have microplastics in their stools,”. However, the authors underscored the need for more research on a larger sample size before drawing conclusions.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, either found in products like exfoliants or disintegrated from larger pieces of plastic such as those that often end up in the ocean.
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