What Are Microplastics?
Plastic, which is used by many on daily basis, is not biodegradable. It breaks down into tiny pieces called microplastics over time, which can be detrimental to the environment.
Now recent studies show that microplastics are found in food, especially seafood. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether these microplastics affect human health.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic particles less than 0.2 inches (5 mm) in diameter. They are found in the environment.
They are either produced as small plastics, such as microbeads added to toothpaste and exfoliants, or are created when larger plastics are broken down in the environment.
Microplastics are common in oceans, rivers and soil and are often consumed by animals.
There is presently much plastic in rivers and oceans, due to the world’s increasing use of plastic. According to estimates, about 8.8 million tons (8 million metric tonnes) of plastic waste enter the ocean every year.
What Food Sources contain microplastic?
Apart from the environment, microplastics are increasingly found in food. One recent study examined 15 different brands of sea salt and found up to 273 microplastic particles per pound (600 particles per kilogram) of salt (7).
The most common source of microplastics in food is seafood. Microplastics are common in seawater, so they are mostly consumed by marine animals. According to recent studies, some fish mistake plastic for food, which can lead to toxic chemicals accumulating in the liver of fish.
Oysters and mussels are at a much higher risk of microplastic contamination than most other species.
A recent study found that mussels and oysters harvested for human consumption had 0.36–0.47 particles of microplastic per gram, meaning people that eat shellfish could ingest up to 11,000 particles of microplastic per year .
Are Microplastics Affecting Your Health?
It is still vague as to how microplastic affect our health. Phthalates (chemical used to make plastic flexible), have been shown to increase the growth of breast cancer cells. However, this research was carried out in a petri dish, so the results can’t be generalized to humans.
A recent study examined the effects of microplastics in laboratory mice. When the microplastics was fed to mice, they accumulated in the liver, kidneys and intestines, thereby increasing the levels of oxidative stress molecules in the liver. They also increased the level of a molecule that may lead to brain toxicity.
Microplastics have been shown to pass from the intestines into the blood and potentially into other organs.
READ ALSO: Eating Fish Can Prevent Breast Cancer
Plastics have also been found in humans. One study discovered that plastic fibers were present in 87% of the human lungs. The researchers suggested this may be due to microplastics present in the air.
Some studies have shown that microplastics in the air may cause lung cells to produce inflammatory chemicals. However, this has only been shown in test-tube studies.
How to Avoid Microplastics in Food
Foods with the highest concentrations of microplastics are fish, especially shellfish.
One may not necessarily avoid eating shellfish completely. However, it may be helpful to eat high-quality shellfish from known sources.
People should reduce their use of plastic food packaging because some plastics can leak into food from packaging.