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Eating plastics in our food

General, Inflammation | July 21, 2021 | Author: Naturopath

Inflammation, general

Eating plastics in our food

Do you know you could be consuming micro sized plastics in the food you eat? We also inhale airbourne plastics from the atmosphere and those same microplastics come in contact with our skin. When plastics breakdown they are known as microplastics and become microscopic – but will never disappear completely. These plastics may be toxic to our body causing inflammation and oxidative stress. 

Plastics cause potentially lethal physical damage to our larger marine and microplastics are being ingested by the smallest plankton. Plankton are the start of the food chain which eventually become food for humans. 

Microplastics are even used in the manufacture of larger products made of plastics. Microplastics, known as nurdles, are found everyday products -  such as washing powder, facial and body exfoliating scrubs, moisturisers, shaving creams, lipsticks and toothpaste – to name just a few. 

Another form of plastic, called microfibre, is that which is shed from synthetic fabric - fabrics we wear. These microfibres are released from fabrics by the mechanical acton of washing, releasing them into the water which eventually reaches our oceans. 

Plastics in our oceans

 Eating plastics in our foodDiscarded plastics which have made their way into the ocean degrade over time depending on their density, shape, polymer and purpose. Wave action and sunlight will degrade plastics into microplastics (plastics under 5mm in size and includes nanoparticles <1 μm in size). As a result, these particles contaminate the marine ecosystem. They are ingested by many sea-life directly or indirectly via trophic transfer (when a larger fish eats smaller fish, plankton and larvae).

Contaminating foods - we eat!

Not only fish and crustaceans commonly consumed in the diet, microplastics have been found in foods and beverages made from the salt extracted from the ocean.

Microplastics can come from processing material, packaging or atmospheric emission. Such items as beer, sea salt, sugar and honey have been found to contain microplastics. Fruit and vegetables may accumulate microplastics from contaminated soil.

Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Microplastics ingestion can mean we are also exposed to other toxic chemicals. Plastics can have added chemicals in their manufacture. Added to that microplastics attract and accumulate persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Chemical additives in plastics may transfer hazardous POPS to marine life and humans. These chemicals might include: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and organochlorine pesticides like dichlorodiphynyltrichloroethane (DDT) or hexachlorobenzene (HCB). Commonly consumed food - dairy, meat and fish, have been found to contribute the highest exposure to PCBs in the diet.  

Marine-grade plastics are made to be durable, but still degrade. Though it may take longer they are eventually degraded through the effects of sunlight, heat, oxidation, microorganisms and hydrolysis (reactions with water).

The implications to our Health

Nano particles and toxic chemicals can relocate and store in any organ in the body.

The implications to our HealthThe physical effect of this is not well understood but potential impact could include enhanced inflammatory response and disruption to our gut microbiome – resulting in chronic immune disorders. Size of toxic plastic particles (size, shape and length), chemical properties (chemical additives and polymer type), microbial biofilm growth and amounts ingested contributes to the toxic effect of microplastics.

Absorption through the gastrointestinal mucosa

One way we absorb microplastics is through the gastrointestinal tract after dietary ingestion. Once ingested, microplastics less than 2.5 μm can enter the gastrointestinal tract where specialized cells epithelial cells of the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues of the Payer’s patches, transport them to mucosal lymphoid tissue, or through cellular persorption. Persorption involves mechanical kneading of plastic particles through gaps in the epithelium of the gastrointestinal tract – and into the circulatory system. The end result can include toxicity and inflammation. The human excretory system is responsible for eliminating 90% of micro and nano plastics in foods ingested.

Reducing exposure to microplastic exposure

Although there is limited information on the implications to health so far, it is prudent to take some evasive action to reduce the potential ingestion and absorption of micro and nano plastics where possible.

Avoid Foods heated in plastic

Plastics have been found to shed depending on temperature.

  • Do not microwave food in plastic containers (including baby bottles)
  • Do not use plastic kettles to boil water
  • Do not use plastic cups for hot beverages
  • Avoid take-away foods in plastic containers

These a just a few examples. Just being aware and open to make changes is the first step.

Healthy elimination

Microplastics are mostly removed through the eliminatory system. Make sure your digestive system and bowel is in good working order by consuming a variety of fibre-rich foods - organic fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains and avoiding processed foods, artificial colourings, flavourings and non-nutritional foods. 
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Probiotics can help provide a healthy digestive mucosa and enhance immunity.
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Know what is in your skin-care products

Cosmetics used everyday contain a wide range of chemicals and although the amounts used is considered small, the potential long-term exposure to harmful chemicals is worht considering. 

There is also a concern with the "additive effect". This is the "unknown amounts"  being potentially absorbed due to the use of different products which contain the same chemicals. Meaning you are absorbing more than may be considered safe. 

Microbeads may be made from the following substances:

  • Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon (PA). These are ingredients used for a variety of purposes in cosmetics and personal care products.
  • Acrylates Copolymer is found in many products such as hair dyes, mascaras, nail polishes, lipsticks, hairsprays, body washes, sunscreens and anti-ageing products.

There are many alternative and safe skin-care products available. 
Click Here for further reading - natural skin-care

Reducing plastic use

Its not as straight forward as you might think. Plastics can play a vital role in our society, but it is wise to reduce or minimise plastics where feasible. One action is simply avoiding one-use plastic and replacing with re-usable alternatives - of which there are many available. Replacing one-use plastics such as disposable crockery and utensils, plastic wrap and plastic bags, is not only good for health but also for the environment. 

Click Here for a range of environmentally-friendly products

For information on what the Australian Government is doing to address the problem of plastic microbeads Click Here 

Current research is unclear how much harm the contact from microplastics is doing to humans. It is hard to research the effect microscopic plastics may be having on human tissue. The fact that microplasitics are being found everywhere in our environment should be enough for us to be concerned.

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Reference

https://www.marineconservation.org.au/ocean-plastic-pollution

Microplastics in Seafood and the Implications for Human Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132564/

The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-43023-x

Effects of plastics in the food system on human health, food security, and the environment: a systematic scoping review https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542519621001029

Microplastics are everywhere — but are they harmful? https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01143-3

Environmental exposure to microplastics: An overview on possible human health effects https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969719344468

https://particleandfibretoxicology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12989-020-00387-7

A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068600/

https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste/plastics-and-packaging/plastic-microbeads

Are There Nanoplastics in Your Personal Care Products? https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00187#

https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/chemistry-cosmetics

Skin safety and health prevention: an overview of chemicals in cosmetic products https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6477564/

https://www.choice.com.au/health-and-body/beauty-and-personal-care/skin-care-and-cosmetics/articles/microplastics-and-microbeads-in-toothpaste-facial-body-scrubs

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