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EnvironmentCauses inflammation, accumulates toxins and collects infections: what microplastics do inside us

Causes inflammation, accumulates toxins and collects infections: what microplastics do inside us

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Gaston de Persigny
Gaston de Persigny
Gaston de Persigny - Reporter at The European Times News

Microplastic got into the diet of animals and people, and then anything happens to it. For example, it can begin to release toxins that it has previously accumulated, cause inflammation or damage internal organs. Hi-Tech explains why microplastics are serious and can be avoided.

We already eat, drink and breathe microplastics. Up to 8.8 million tonnes of tiny plastic particles are released into the ocean every year. And the worst thing is that no one knows how dangerous it is.

Is microplastic really that bad?

Yes, it has a negative effect on the body. Today, unfortunately, we do not know the full severity of the consequences of the accumulation of the smallest particles of plastic in the body. They began to study this topic quite recently. The first major scientific work on the dangers of microplastics was published only in 2004.

Today it is known that microplastics enters the food of people and animals – from zooplankton to fish and birds, and also accumulates in body tissues. Together with plastic, various toxic substances can enter the body, for example, dyes that were used in the production of plastics. Also, some of the plastic contains flame retardants – they can cause damage to organs, inflammation of the intestines and affect reproduction.

In addition, the particles can also absorb other toxic substances with which they came into contact, for example, pesticides and dioxins. Then all this is easily excreted into the organism into which they got.

Scientists from the University of Arizona decided to study how microplastics specifically affect humans: they studied tissue and organ samples – lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys, which were taken from 47 people. As a result of the work, the researchers found dozens of types of components in all samples, including polycarbonate, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene, and bisphenol A, which is a toxic substance.

Okay, microplastics are bad. But where do we contact him?

We can find microplastics in very different places, for example, in the ocean. According to estimates for 2014, there were more than 5 trillion particles with a total weight of about 250 thousand tons. But every year scientists are diving deeper into this area and declare that these figures are greatly underestimated.

In 2020, it became known that the world’s oceans could contain from 9.25 to 15.87 million tons of microplastics. Scientists estimate that 4.4 million to 8.8 million tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean every year. In addition to the world’s oceans, microplastics are found in fresh water and even tap water.

It is also found in the air of megalopolises. Ordinary water filters do not help with microplastics, since the particles are very tiny. Researchers tested how common microplastics were in tap water and found that 83% of water samples from every continent contained plastic.

If plastic is almost everywhere, then can it penetrate into the human body and where exactly?

• Into urine

Scientists from Germany have found microplastic particles in the body of almost all children under the age of 17. In a study that took place from 2014 to 2017, they studied the urine of 2.5 thousand children. During the study, the authors analyzed the biomaterial for the presence of 15 types of plastics. Based on the results of the work, it turned out that in the samples of 97% of the participants in the experiment there were 11 out of 15 species.

• In feces

Scientists from the Medical University of Vienna decided to study volunteers from eight countries, in particular from Russia, to study how common microplastics are in human waste.

In a pilot study, the researchers analyzed stool samples from these eight people. In each biomaterial, an average of 20 plastic particles per 10 grams were found. The experiment lasted a week, during which the authors took samples. During this time, the volunteers ate food from plastic boxes and drank from plastic cups, and also ate ocean fish – this was also part of their regular diet. According to Dr. Herbert Tilgd, President of the Austrian Society of Gastroenterology, plastic particles can cause inflammation of the intestines, as well as lead to colon cancer.

• To the placenta

Scientists from Italy studied the composition of the placenta of six healthy women for microplasty. The researchers took the placenta of women immediately after childbirth – the entire procedure took place with minimal contact with plastic.

After giving birth, the placenta of the volunteers was crushed into small particles to see if they contained microplastics. As a result, the researchers found 12 pieces of microplastic in the organs, three of which were the remnants of polypropylene. The composition of the rest could not be determined.

• In the tissue of the human body

Specialists from Arizona State University in the United States have found microplastics in human tissues for the first time. They showed that tiny particles of plastic can enter the body and accumulate in tissues and organs. And, theoretically, lead to infertility and cancer.

The authors took samples of various body tissues from volunteers and found that plastic was present everywhere. It is not yet known whether it is merely a nuisance or a hazard to human health, the researchers said.

Polyethylene balls in toothpaste

Microplastic spreads infections, how can it be?

Microplastic particles can also harbor infections and bacteria. Earlier, researchers from Germany found fungi on the surfaces of microplastics. Numerous species of pathogenic fungi find new habitats on microplastic particles in the soil. They can be one of the reasons for the increase in the number of fungal infections.

In addition, microplastics can serve as a collection site for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They form a mucous layer or biofilm on the surface of microplastics, which allows pathogenic microorganisms and antibiotic waste to move.

How to consume less microplastics?

Experts advise to cut down on the plastic packaging we use and not to heat food in plastic containers, but to reduce the amount of glitter cosmetics and artificial fine particle scrubs.

Instead of tea bags, it is better to brew leaf tea, since packaging can also be made of plastic. Bottled water also contains microplastics, so its consumption should be reduced.

The problem of microplastics is global and it is still unknown how serious the consequences will be. Scientists point out different processes or organs to find out if there is microplastic there and how it moves, but the problem is that these particles can be so small that even the most modern technology will not detect them. So far, research in this area is actively continuing.

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