How much plastic is sitting on your gut? If you think the answer is zero, think again. A recent review suggests people consume about five grams of plastic particles per week — the equivalent of the weight of a credit card.
Nanoplastics are any plastics less than 0.001 millimeters in size. Microplastics, on the other hand, are 0.001 to 5 millimeters and on some occasions still visible to the naked eye. Most microplastic and nanoplastics find their way to the human food chain from packaging waste.
Plastic particles can enter the body through seafood, sea salt, or drinking water. One study referenced in the review found people who drank the recommended 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day from plastic bottles takes in 90,000 plastic particles per year from this way alone. People who opt for tap water reduce their ingested amount to about 40,000 plastic particles.
Research exploring the number of micro-and nanoplastic particles in the gastrointestinal tract has shown its presence is changing the gut microbiome composition. The changes it’s making are linked to the emergence of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, or chronic liver disease.
Not only are the changes in the gut microbiome apparent, but scientists have also broken ground on the molecular mechanisms behind the uptake of micro- and nanoplastic particles into gut tissue. Both microplastic and nanoplastic particles potentially activate mechanisms involved in local inflammation and immune response. Evidence has shown that nanoplastics, in particular, trigger chemical pathways involved in the formation of cancer.
While ingesting plastic is harmful to everyone, it is more detrimental to people with chronic diseases. “A healthy gut is more likely to ward off the health risk. But local changes in the gastrointestinal tract, such as those present in chronic disease or even negative stress, could make them susceptible to the harmful effects of MNPs,” says Lukas Kenner, study co-author from the Medical University of Vienna in a statement.
The research is published in the journal Exposure & Health.