Not only environmentalists are concern about plastic pollution, as a doctor I’m also concerned about the health implications of this ubiquitous presence of plastic everywhere, especially in our food and water.
A recent report of the World Health Organization stated that an average person consumes 80 gr of micro and nano plastic per day. The main exposure is though inhalation or digestion from different sources, such as sea food, bottled water, salt, sugar or alcohol, to only mention a few sources.
Although there is insufficient medical research to prove the health implications of continual exposure to microplastics, some studies point out microplastics as “multifaceted cell stressors.”
What is a cell stressor?
It is usually an environmental factor such as toxins or chemicals, also infections, extreme temperatures or other sorts of damage that triggers molecular changes inside the cells. Continual exposure to these aggressors might lead to permanent cell damage, cell DNA mutations (common in cancer cells) and ultimately death of the cell.
Why we linked microplastics and cell damage?
Plastic can serve as a transport to many chemicals that adhere to them and that we ingest together with the small plastic particles. Additionally, plastic itself is a cocktail of chemicals such as petroleum byproducts, lubricants, UV stabilizers, flame-retardants, dyes among many other hazardous substances.
These substances are usually hazardous for humans, that’s the reason why many of them are currently banned in many countries, for instance PBDEs, and brominated fire retardants but still we can absorb them when small particles of plastic carry them on their surface.
Health problems linked to microplastics:
Here I listed some of the most common medical issues that we can easily connect to microplastics.
1- Microplastics can cause toxicity through oxidative stress and inflammatory lesions in different tissues and organs. For example, those ingested particles smaller than 150 microns can cross the gastrointestinal epithelium and cause systemic exposure. It has been connected with adenocarcinoma of the colon.
2-Small particles up to 10 microns have the capacity to cross the blood brain barrier causing potential neurotoxicity and also can cross the placenta exposing the developing fetus to that aggressor.
3-Many of these chemical contain or adhere to plastic are endocrine disruptive substances EDC and might interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system, which translate in thyroid problems, infertility.
4-Other chemicals are carcinogenic and has been linked to pulmonary, endocrine, lymphatic and digestive cancer.
5-Inhalation of microplastic can cause bronchial reactions, asthma, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis and other respiratory problems.
6-Another finding of especial concern is in microalgae and sea food are involved in the increase number of antibiotic-resistant pathogens which means than normal antibiotics doesn’t kill bacteria and diseases are more dangerous and lethal.
Can we reduce exposure to microplastics?
First of all is crucial that as a consumer you do some research of what food you consume, what brands you use not only of water but even in cosmetic and beauty products.
Every action is important to reduce the exposure as much as possible.
That’s why I started this article mentioning that as a doctor is concerning and that what we advice to our patients in terms of a healthy lifestyle has change overtime.
Now when a patient asks me it is good if I eat more fish, I can’t answer the same than my fellow doctors answered 15 years ago; yes, it is advisable to eat more fish, I only can say it depends.
Measures to reduce the contact and absortion of plastic
A well know problem worldwide is fish, and most seafood in general, that is widely polluted.
In the case of microplastic and food for example, marine species for human consumption such as fish, bivalves and some crustaceums) are some of the most affected, for example blue mussels of 5 many countries in Europe has around 3 to 5 fibres of microplastic per 10 grams of the product.
1-Therefore, it is important you know the source of the fish you eat, and try to consume, even if contradictory you should consider not to eat fish from areas where water pollution is more relevant, like in China, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. I do emphasis in this because a big amount of fish that is consume in the United States come from Asian countries.
2-It is also recommended to avoid food that comes in plastic containers. You should try to choose healthier options like fresh vegetables, fruits from local markets and food package in paper or any organic container.
3-Furthermore, don’t store food or water in plastic recipients and use glass or wooden containers instead. Another important point is doing not heat food in microwave ovens inside of plastic containers, because this pass a lot of particles from the container to the food. There is a very interesting article for Nature illustrates this.
4-Another important measure is to replace plastic bottled water for glass bottled water (usually more expensive) or consume filtered tap water as an alternative.
The latter not only keep you away of an important source of nano plastics but also helps to reduce the plastic wasted produce by bottled waters.
5-Choose your skin products wisely, since nano plastic absortion through the skin (when it is present in the water or in cleansing and other skin care products) has also been demonstrated. It is important to choose tested organic skin products that do not contain plastic on it, and also test tap water or use any filter that trap very small size particles.
We tend to believe than adding is more important than subtracting. We add (exercise routines as part of our lifestyle, more vitamins and antioxidants, more proteins to our diet), but sometime eliminating source of pollutants, eliminating obesogenic junk food, toxic products from our personal care stock is more effective than just adding more “healthy actions”.
You can add hundreds of healthy habits to your life but if we don’t eliminate or at least try to reduce those that do harm, you are not doing well the job. Every action counts toward living a healthier and joyful life.