Microplastic was found in human stool samples from countries in many parts of the world, according to a small pilot study presented this week at the 26 th Annual Conference of the United European Gastroenterology in Vienna.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Federal Environment Agency, examined stool samples from eight persons in eight different countries: Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Great Britain and Austria. Each stool sample was tested positive for up to nine different types of plastic, with an average of 20 plastic particles per 10 grams of stool.
"Personally, I did not expect any rehearsal … [test] … positive," says top researcher dr. Philipp Schwabl from the Medical University of Vienna. He and his colleagues found that all eight stool samples contained polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate particles, which are major components of plastic bottle caps and plastic bottles. "Is it harmful to human health? This is a very important issue and we are planning further investigations."
In the study, which is the first of its kind, each person ate their normal diet and conducted a food diary throughout the week until their stool sampling. All participants were exposed to plastics by consuming food packaged in plastic and drinks in plastic bottles. None of the participants were vegetarians and six of them consumed wild fish.
The concern, says Scwhabl, is whether microplastics could "get into the bloodstream, lymphatic system and even into the liver". He notes that microplastics has been shown to cause intestinal damage and liver stress in animal and fish studies
The world produces 400 tons of plastic annually and 80 percent land in landfills and other parts of the environment. The smallest particles, the microplastics, range from 1
"This study is brilliant and ingenious," says chemist and microplastic expert Shari Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia. Mason was not involved in the study. "You've definitely realized what so many of us suspected – we're picking up these plastics."
The question now is, says Mason, what is retained and not excreted? And what is its effect?
"We know from scientific literature that anything smaller than 150 microns, and especially anything smaller than 50 microns, can travel through the intestinal wall and into the blood cells and organs," says ecologist Chelsea Rochman of the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study.
Not only the potential migration of plastics in our bodies is a problem, but the additives in plastics can also pose health risks. Many of these additives are known endocrine disruptors. According to Dr. Herbert Tilg, President of the Austrian Society of Gastroenterology and Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the UEG, could possibly be one of the factors contributing to the inflammatory bowel syndrome or even to the colon cancer that is on the rise in young adults. 19659011] "Colon cancer increases in young people, and we think that either diet or environmental components are a factor," he says. "Now that we know we can discover microplastics in humans, we can develop larger trials in both healthy and sick patients to see if they are a contributing factor." Tilg was not involved in this study.
How can we minimize our exposure to microplastics? Rochman says for water: "Reverse osmosis filters are nice, and we use them in our lab." HEPA filters can also purify the air of small particles, she says. You can avoid plastic bottles, but plastic wrappers and containers are ubiquitous for food; and plastic is all around us.
"Our love affair with plastic is so great," says Mason, "it will take time to change our current situation. People are starting to look at truly biodegradable plastics from hemp or corn starch, and I think this will be the ultimate solution to this multi-faceted problem. "
Rochman was not surprised that microplastic is found in a human stool. "We mismanaged our waste," says Rochman, "and she comes back to watch us at our table, and now we literally eat our own garbage, we can do better."
Meanwhile, Schwabl says he and his colleagues are seeking funding so they can try to reproduce their initial findings in a larger study.
Jill Neimark is an Atlanta-based author whose work has been published in Discover, Scientific American, Science, Nautilus, Aeon, Psychology Today and The New York Times.