Protecting Our Bodies from Microplastics and Nanoplastics

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by Nils Osmar. Updated Feb. 17, 2024

Microplastics are toxic. They originate in our polluted environment. Recent evidence suggests that they find their way into the human body. If we succeed at extending the human lifespan, we’ll need to give some thought to ways of protecting ourselves from microplastic contamination, and at some point finding mechanisms for removing them from our bodies.

They’re in our blood…

We need to start by facing the fact that they’re ubiquitous. They’re in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. .

The Smithsonian published an article in 2022 called “Microplastics Detected in Human Blood in New Study“, which noted that researchers had found plastic in the blood of 17 of 22 of the study participants (more than 75 percent). The author stated:

Researchers took blood samples from anonymous, healthy adults, and looked for plastics that were between 700 and 500,000 nanometers (nm). Seven hundred nm is around 140 times smaller than the width of a human hair…

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in disposable water bottles, was the most widely encountered plastic polymer and found in about 50 percent of the donors. The second most common, polystyrene (PS), which is used for food packaging and polystyrene foam, was found in about 36 percent…

They’re in our lungs

An article in The Guardian called Microplastics found deep in lungs of living people for first time, also published in 2022, stated:

Samples were taken from tissue removed from 13 patients undergoing surgery and microplastics were found in 11 cases. The most common particles were polypropylene, used in plastic packaging and pipes, and PET, used in bottles. Two previous studies had found microplastics at similarly high rates in lung tissue taken during autopsies…

They cross the blood-brain barrier

Humans and other mammals have a blood-brain barrier which prevents foreign substances from entering the brain. But a recent study found that microplastics are able to penetrate it and become lodged in the brain. See article: Mouse study shows microplastics infiltrate blood brain barrier.

According to the article, “The study shows that microplastics, especially microplastics with the size of 2 micrometers or less, start to be deposited in the brain even after short-term ingestion within seven days, resulting in apoptosis, and alterations in immune responses, and inflammatory responses,”

Where they come from

There are many sources of microplastics. Some come from furniture which breaks down over time and turn into dust that enter the body through inhalation. This process can be controlled to some extent by vacuuming regularly using a HEPA filter.

Outside of our homes, there are many sources. According to an article called “How do microplastics get in the air?“,

Huge amounts of plastic waste are dumped in the environment and microplastics now contaminate the entire planet… People were already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water as well as breathing them in, and they have been found in the faeces of babies and adults.

According to this article, other sources include tires; synthetic textiles; city dust; road markings; polyurethane and epoxy coatings, vinyl and lacquers. used on seagoing vessels; and personal care products. From the article:

A Canadian study found that passenger light truck tires lost nearly 2.5 pounds of rubber during an average service life of just over 6 years. Another study found that Americans produce the most tire wear per capita and estimated that tires in the U.S. alone produce about 1.8 million tons of microplastics annually. Second only to synthetic textiles, vehicle tires contribute 28 percent of all the primary microplastics in the oceans, according to the IUCN.

Microplastics are also found in teabags

Another source of microplastics that has recently come to light is teabags. One teabag can release billions of particles of microplastics into a cup of tea.

Canadian researchers published a study in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology which found that steeping a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature releases about 11.6 billion minuscule particles known as “microplastics” and 3.1 billion “nanoplastics” into each cup (source). See study: Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea

“We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics,” Nathalie Tufenkji of McGill University in Quebec, told The New Scientist.

…. and table salt

“Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup.”

… and water bottles

The researchers found that, on average, a liter of bottled water included about 240,000 tiny pieces of plastic. About 90% of these plastic fragments were nanoplastics. This total was 10 to 100 times more plastic particles than seen in earlier studies, which mostly focused on larger microplastics. Source: “Plastics Particles in Bottlee Water”

Minimizing exposure

There’s only so much that we can do as individuals to protect ourselves from microplastic contamination. No intervention will keep them all out. But some things can minimize our exposure:

  1. Vacuuming our living areas frequently using cleaners with HEPA filters
  2. Using air purifiers
  3. Using water filters
  4. Buying loose leaf tea instead of teabags (some paper bags are sealed with plastic)
  5. Using glass bottles for water instead of plastic
  6. Buying salt which is lower in microplastics. Redmond RealSalt, for example, is mined rather than distilled from sea water. Its manufacturer claims that it contains no microplastics.
  7. Using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones.
  8. Storing food in glass containers instead of plastic.
  9. Avoiding packaged/processed foods. Buying whole foods and doing your own cooking.
  10. Avoiding plastic straws.
  11. Not using plastic shopping bags. (Opt for canvas or cloth bags).
  12. Avoiding chewing gum that contains plastics. (Choosing gums made from natural materials)
  13. Not using plastic silverware.
  14. Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor
  15. Not handling receipts, which contain BPA
  16. Buying natural rather than synthetic clothing.
  17. If we live in particularly polluted environments (such as homes near busy streets), an option to think about might be moving to a less polluted environment.
  18. Not microwaving food in plastic containers.
  19. Minimizing our use of canned foods (from containers with plastic liners)

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