Microplastics Can Find Their Way Into Your Gut, Study Says

Grant Boone
October 25, 2018

Microplastics have been found in human stool for the first time, according to a new study presented in Vienna Tuesday, shedding some light on the pervasiveness of the pollutant.

The participants were not told to eat any specific diet, but food diaries showed that six of the participants consumed fish in the week before giving a stool sample, and all of the participants consumed at least some plastic-wrapped foods or drank from plastic bottles.

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria said Tuesday that their pilot study found so-called microplastics in all samples taken from eight volunteers in Europe, Russia and Japan.

When tested, their excrement contained nine out of 10 types of plastics-the most common among them polypropylene (found in reusable containers, carpets and rugs, and Rubik's Cube stickers) and PET (used for plastic bottles, flexible food packaging, thermal insulation, and frozen dinner trays).

On average, there were 20 microplastic particles in every 10 grams of poop. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases.

There isn't any evidence so far of whether ingesting microplastics is risky to humans, let alone the specific effects, but the researchers believe that gastrointestinal plastic might have a clinical impact. Once in the ocean, plastics are consumed by sea animals and enter the food chain where ultimately, they are likely to be consumed by humans.

Microplastics have been detected in shellfish, in tap water samples from around the world, bottled water, beer, honey and much of the world's table salt.

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Seawater samples collected throughout a 45,000 mile journey on the Volvo Ocean race round-the-world sailing event have revealed traces of microplastics nearly everywhere, including in the remotest waters in the Southern Ocean. In addition, many USA cities are moving to ban plastic straws and single-use items such as cotton swabs and drink stirrers, which can break down into microplastics. But each participant came from a different country, ranging from Japan and Russian Federation to the U.K. And every sample tested positive for microplastic, fragments of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters across.

As per the findings of the research, nine different types of plastics were found in the samples. He said "Although there are initial indications that microplastics can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances, further studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of microplastics for humans".

"Plastics are pervasive in everyday life, and humans are exposed to plastics in numerous ways", Schwabl said. Human studies have found that these chemicals can leach from plastics into the food people eat or into the dust in the air.

Experts said they were not surprised by the findings, which provide further evidence of the widespread presence of microplastics in our environment and the damaging effects of plastic pollution in the world's oceans. "Personally, I didn't expect that each example would be tested positive".

Reference Assessment of microplastics concentrations in human stool - Preliminary results of a prospective study - Philipp Schwabl, Bettina Liebmann, Sebastian Köppel, Philipp Königshofer, Theresa Bucsics, Michael Trauner, Thomas Reiberger, presented in the scope of the UEG Week 2018 in Vienna on 24 October 2018. Significant amounts of microplastics have been found in tuna, lobster, and shrimp, scientists said.

"Colon cancer is increasing in young people, and we think that either dietary or environmental components are a factor", he says.

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