Microplastics Found In The Human Blood For The First Time: Detection and Prevention

Microplastics Found In The Human Blood For The First Time Yes, you read that right. Read the full article to know everything about microplastics from what they are, their history, the extent to which they are dangerous for the humanity and environment, their symptoms, what can be done to prevent them from entering the human body, and much more.

What Exactly Microplastics Are?

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In many of the firsts happening around the world, scientists also have found something for the first time ever. They have detected microplastics in human blood — with tiny particles found in nearly 80 percent of tested human participants, according to a recent study. As the name itself suggests that microplastics are tiny particles of plastics.

Microplastics Found In The Human Blood For The First Time

Officially, they are defined as plastics less than five millimeters (0.2 inches) in diameter—smaller in diameter than the standard pearl used in jewelry. These tiny particles can move freely throughout the body and become stuck in organs which could cause significant health issues. Microplastics have been divided into 2 categories: Primary and Secondary.                        

Primary microplastics are tiny particles designed for commercial use, such as cosmetics as well as microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles, such as fishing nets. They enter the environment directly through any of various channels—for example, product use (e.g., personal care products being washed into wastewater systems from households), unintentional loss from spills during manufacturing or transport, or abrasion during washing (e.g., laundering of clothing made with synthetic textiles).                                 

 Secondary microplastics are particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as water bottles. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors, mainly the sun’s radiation and ocean waves.

What Is The History Of Microplastics?

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Researchers at Plymouth University were the first to demonstrate the occurrence of microscopic plastic debris in the environment. Professor Thompson’s team showed that `microplastic particles had accumulated since the 1960s and are present in oceans worldwide.

This case study describes the impacts from these findings and the subsequent research by the team which demonstrated that marine organisms could ingest and retain this material and that, upon ingestion, microplastics had the potential to release chemical contaminants. The research impacted the UK, European and American policy and contributed to a body of evidence that influenced companies to phase-out microplastics from their products.

How Do They Affect Us?

Microplastics Found In The Human Blood For The First Time

Microplastics are not biodegradable. Thus, once in the environment, primary and secondary microplastics accumulate and persist. Microplastics have been found in a variety of environments including oceans and freshwater ecosystems. In oceans alone, annual plastic pollution, from all types of plastics, was estimated at 4 million to 14 million tons in the early 21st century. Microplastics also are a source of air pollution, occurring in dust and airborne fibrous particles. 

Microplastics surround us and human exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption due to their omnipresence in air, water, food, and consumer products. Scientists think we may ingest anywhere from dozens, to more than 100, 000 microplastic particles each day. Even the synthetic clothing we wear can shed fibers ––some studies have revealed textiles to be the major source of airborne microplastics.

No research has yet been done to directly study the effects of microplastics on people. The research available so far either exposes human cells or tissues to microplastics or has investigated animals, such as mice or rats, as part of the study. Using the data that is available then, it is believed that microplastics may be hazardous to our health. It is thought they might act as irritants, in much the same way asbestos fibers are now known to inflame the lungs and cause cancer.

Microplastics Found In The Human Blood For The First Time

Although, some research has shown the potentiality for metabolic disturbance, neurotoxicity as well as carcinogenic effects. It has been shown that microplastics can act as endocrine disruptors, thus interfering with normal hormone function and potentially causing weight gain. Certain microplastics, for example, flame retardants, are thought to interfere with fetal brain development, and likewise, they can affect normal brain development in children.

How To Detect Microplastics In humans?

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Researchers in the U.S. are among the first in the world to examine microplastic and nano plastic particles in human organs and tissues using a new testing technique. Conducted by scientists from Arizona State University, the study looked into how to detect and examine microplastics and nanoplastics in human tissues and organs. Such tiny fragments, which are less than 5 millimeters in diameter, have been notoriously difficult to detect in animals and humans, but the researchers used a new technique to be able to see how and if the tiny particles are accumulating.

Their technique involved adding particles to 47 samples of lung, liver, spleen, and kidney tissue obtained from a tissue bank that had been established to study neurodegenerative diseases. Using a procedure called flow cytometry and computer analysis, they found that microplastics could be detected in every single sample.

Specifically, the researchers found Bisphenol A (BPA) – the plastic used in many food containers – in all 47 human samples. The chemicals in microplastics have a variety of health consequences for humans, including developmental, reproductive, and hormonal problems. BPA and phthalates are among the most common; these endocrine-disrupters can interfere with fetal development and cause hormone-related cancers. 

What Can Be Done To Prevent Microplastics From Entering The Human Body?

Microplastics Found In The Human Blood For The First Time: Detection and Prevention 5

While some larger-scale steps have been taken to limit microplastics – such as the microbead ban implemented in 2015 for rinse-off body products – simple steps can be taken to cut down the exposure to microplastics in daily life and keep them from entering the human body. These are as follows:                                                                 While it might be tempting to microwave leftovers or takeout right in the container, the BPA and phthalates added to plastic leach much more easily when heated. This includes plastic Tupperware, takeout boxes, lids, and pre-made, frozen meals that get microwaved right in the package. Transfer food to a ceramic or glass container instead, or keep a few dishes at the office to use at lunchtime. Take care not to wash plastic containers in the dishwasher too, as the heated water degrades the plastic.                                                                                                                                                             It’s time to ditch bottled water, which, according to a 2018 study, has roughly double the number of microplastics as tap water. Instead of reaching for a new plastic bottle every day, fill up a reusable glass, stainless steel, or silicone with tap water. Many of these bottles are also designed to keep drinks cold and last for many years.                   

While all plastic is harmful, products with recycling codes 3, 6, and 7 are even more damaging than others and are known for containing phthalates, styrene, and bisphenols respectively. Avoid these plastics when possible – especially when it comes to food.  Compare recycling codes on the bottom of packaged products at the grocery store and make an informed decision about which to choose. 

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Microplastics are even present in the products we use to wash our bodies and brush our teeth. Some lotions use plastic to promote absorption, as do many tubes of toothpaste and facial/body scrubs.  Body products with fragrance often have phthalates, so look for products that say “fragrance-free” (not merely “unscented) or “phthalate-free” when purchasing face wash, toothpaste, and other frequently-scented items. Opt instead for microbead and plastic-free options, or natural products with biodegradable alternatives to microbeads.

Avoiding seafood is an important step to limiting the microplastics we ingest. Microplastics have been found in 386 aquatic species, more than half of which are used commercially; and, as ocean plastic pollution grows, the situation is expected to worsen. Evidence suggests that microplastics and nanoplastics – which are even smaller – can move from the stomach of fish into their muscle tissue, which is what humans typically eat.                       

Besides eating and drinking microplastics also make their way into our bodies through air. These minuscule plastic pieces are so small, they’re often mixed up in the dust under our beds, in household corners, and floating in the air. Regular dusting and vacuuming can keep these microplastics from accumulating and becoming inhaled by household inhabitants. These measures are especially important if there are babies or young children crawling around at home. 

Last but not the least, We can limit our own use and exposure to microplastics, but large-scale solutions are needed to truly combat plastic pollution. So we together should urge the government to take preventive measures on a large scale to protect the ecosystem. 


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