by Mary Jo DiLonardo

Microplastics can be found in many different items that we’re exposed to over the course of a day. Plastic water bottles, synthetic carpet, and even beauty products can all increase our exposure to these tiny plastic particles. Microplastics can also be inhaled and ingested with foods or beverages.

While the exact effect microplastics may have on our health in the long term is not yet clear, we do know they are capable of affecting human cells and also have a negative effect on the environment and the organisms within it.1

By knowing where you might come across microplastics in your day-to-day life, you can better understand how you can identify and then reduce your exposure.

Microplastics in Humans 

Because plastics are such a durable material, once they’re small enough to form microplastics they can easily be ingested or inhaled as we’re exposed to them over the course of our lives. While the exact effect of these microplastics is unclear, research indicates that they may lead to increased inflammatory response, toxicity, and disrupt the gut microbiome

In 2020, scientists detected microplastics in the placentas of healthy women. It’s thought that the particles probably derived from personal care products, paints, cosmetics, and packaging. The size of the microplastics meant that once ingested or inhaled, they were small enough to be carried through the bloodstream. Microplastics were not detected in all participants, meaning some lifestyle factors may be at play.

Impact on Human Health 

While we know microplastics are everywhere, more research needs to be done to better understand their long-term impact on our well-being.

Scientists have been working on developing methods to help detect the presence of microplastics in human tissue. These methods will be key in determining whether microplastics are a health hazard, or if their accumulation shouldn’t worry us too much.

So far, research has shown that microplastics are indeed capable of affecting human cells, leading to oxidative stress, immune responses (such as allergic reactions), and cell death in toxicology tests. However, further research is needed to understand how microplastics accumulate and are excreted from the body.

In the meantime, many people choose to try and avoid microplastics where possible, especially given we know they can have negative impacts on the environment and wildlife.

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