Most of the people use plastic every day. Contamination of the natural environment by plastics has reached endemic levels, with specific alarm surrounding minute ‘microplastic’ particles. Plastic pollution is a chief cause of death of marine animals and their habitat destruction.
Though, this material normally is not biodegradable. But over time, it breaks down into small pieces called microplastics. Microplastics consist of small fibers from nylon clothes and other synthetic textiles. They can be very harmful to the environment. They are present all over the world as in oceans, rivers, soil, and other environments.
Still, it is not clear whether microplastics affect human health. This article will provide the necessary information regarding microplastics and whether they are a danger to your health.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic which are present in the environment. The particle size of plastic is less than 0.2 inches (5 mm) in diameter. The smaller the size of the plastic particles, the more probable they are to cross the biological barriers like cell membranes. Thus, causing damage to body tissues.
They may be produced as small plastics, like microbeads which are added to exfoliants and toothpaste. They can also be created by the break down of larger plastics in the environment. Microplastics are most common in rivers, oceans, and soil and are frequently consumed by animals.
Many studies began in the 1970s for the investigation of the levels of microplastics in the oceans. They found its high levels in the Atlantic Ocean off the US coast.
How do microplastics enter the environment?
When synthetic textiles or plastics get littered, they start breaking down into smaller particles. The rain, sun, wind, and other natural elements contribute to this practice.
These broken-down particles of plastic get swept by rain into rivers, lakes, sewers, etc. Ultimately, the microplastics will make it into the ocean or another large body of water.
Nowadays, there is much more plastic in rivers and oceans due to the world’s growing use of plastic. An estimated 8.8 million tons of plastic waste every year enter the ocean. A huge 276,000 tons of this plastic is presently floating at sea, while the rest has probably sunk or washed ashore.
Microplastics in food
Microplastics are largely found in different environments, also food is no exception. One current study examined 15 different sea salt brands. They found up to 273 microplastic particles per pound which are 600 particles per kilogram of salt.
Some other studies have found up to 300 microplastic threads per pound of honey and up to about 109 microplastic fragments per quart of beer. Nonetheless, the most common microplastics source is seafood. This is because microplastics are common in seawater. They are usually consumed by fish and other aquatic organisms.
Current studies have also shown that some fish mistake plastic for food. This plastic intake can lead to the accumulation of toxic chemicals inside the fish liver. It has also been observed that microplastics were even existing in deep-sea organisms. This proposes that microplastics are disturbing even the most isolated species.
Moreover, oysters and mussels are at a much higher threat of microplastic corruption than most other species. A study found that oysters and muscles harvested for human intake had 0.36–0.47 particles of microplastic per gram. This shows that consumers of shellfish could consume up to 11,000 particles of microplastic each year. That may end in humans consuming its great levels.
Are microplastics affecting your health?
Though many studies have observed that microplastics are found in food, their effect on human health is still unclear. Until now, very few studies have observed how microplastics affect human health and disease.
Phthalates, a sort of chemical which makes the plastic flexible. This chemical can increase the development of breast cancer cells. But, this research was carried out in a petri dish, so the consequences cannot be generalized to humans.
A current study surveyed the effects of microplastics on mice in the laboratory. When fed to mice, these microplastics accumulated in the intestines, liver, and kidneys. These molecules also increased the levels of oxidative stress molecules in the liver. They also increased the level of a molecule which may be very toxic to the brain.
Microparticles can pass from the intestines and enter into the blood and possibly other organs. So, they can absorb lethal chemicals and then discharge them in an animal’s digestive systems. This would evidently be bad for our health.
Plastics are also present in human beings. A research found that plastic fibers were found in 87% of the human lungs studied. The researchers suggested that this may be due to the presence of microplastics in the air. Studies have also revealed that microplastics present in the air may cause the production of inflammatory chemicals from lung cells. But, this has only been observed in test-tube studies.
One of the best-studied chemicals present in plastic Bisphenol A (BPA). This chemical is present in plastic packaging or food storage containers which can leak out into food. Some evidence has exposed that BPA can affect reproductive hormones, particularly in women. Many evidence from animal and test-tube studies proposes that microplastics may be bad for health. Still, very few studies examining their effects on humans presently exist.
How to avoid microplastics in food
Microplastics are present in several different kinds of human food sources. However, their effect on human health is still unclear.
Their highest concentrations in the food chain seem to be in fish, mostly shellfish. As little information is present about how microplastics affect human health, it is not crucial to avoid shellfish completely. However, it may be useful to eat shellfish of high-quality from known sources.
Besides, some plastics can also leak into your food from packaging. Limiting the use of plastic food packaging may reduce your microplastic consumption, and advantage of the environment in the process.
The bottom line
Microplastics are either intentionally produced to be small, such as microbeads found in cosmetics, or made from the breakdown of larger plastics. Awkwardly, microplastics are present throughout the environment, including in the food, air, and water.There are many alternatives to plastic, but only some retailers and manufacturers are using them.
Seafood, chiefly shellfish, contains its high concentrations which may gather in your body after you eat these foods. How microplastics affect the health of humans is currently unclear. However, outcomes from test-tube and animal and studies propose they may have harmful effects.
Limiting usage of plastic food packaging is one of most effective ways you can decrease plastic in the food chain and in the environment. It is a step that will advantage the whole environment and possibly your health, as well.