The endocrine attack continues.
Whenever you read about the impact of plastic pollution, it’s scary to learn about the damage it does to our environment, particularly our ocean life. What is often overlooked, however, is much more disturbing.
It is the impact plastic has on humans and the damage it does to our bodies. Plastic isn’t just killing our natural environment; plastic could be killing us, too.
Microplastics, which are tiny plastic fragments found in our water, air, food, and soil, now may be lurking even further inside of our bodies, according to mounting research.
For the first time, researchers found that 17 out of 22 people had microplastics originating from common products in their blood, according to a new paper published in the journal Environment International.
“This is the first study to identify plastics that we know are in containers, plastic bottles, clothing, and other products that we use, inside of people,” Andrea De Vizcaya-Ruiz, PhD, an associate professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Irvine.
“When humans consume food, drink water, or breathe air that is contaminated with microplastics, the plastic fragments can enter the body.”
The two most common types of plastic found in the study were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make plastic water bottles and clothing fibres, and polystyrene, which is found in food packaging, disposable utensils, and straws.
But how exactly do these plastics get into our blood?
After consuming food or water containing microplastics, researchers suspect those tiny particles make their way to the gut, through the intestinal membrane, and into the bloodstream, Dr. De Vizcaya-Ruiz says.
Something similar may happen when microplastics enter the bloodstream after being inhaled and passing through the membrane of the lungs.
More recently, researchers published a paper with another original discovery: 11 out of 13 people had microplastics in their lungs, according to the study set to run in The Science of the Total Environment.
Numerous other studies support that we’re regularly consuming plastic, Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist at MedStar Health and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, says.
“Microplastics have been found in human saliva, scalp hair, and feces, suggesting that we are all likely exposed to these plastic fragments on a regular basis,” she says.
Some estimates show that people in the U.S. consume and breathe in between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastic fragments each year.
These chemicals have slowly been altering human beings for decades, including the quality of life being produced for generations to come.
Shanna Swan, professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, is a leading authority on this foreboding subject.
In her book, Count Down, she explains how modern chemicals in the environment are changing human sexuality and fertility on a massive scale.
Sperm counts among men in Western countries have plummeted by 50 per cent over the past 40 years.
Younger women, as well as those over the age of 35, are suffering from what she refers to as “impaired fecundity”, or the ability to have children.
What does this have to do with plastic?
The chemicals added to plastic or used in their manufacture — such as phthalates, which make plastic soft or flexible, and bisphenol A, which hardens it — have been linked to fertility issues in men and women, including diminishing sperm count, poor sperm quality, miscarriage and higher rates of erectile dysfunction.
The most terrifying finding of her extensive research is that if nothing changes, we could be on course for an infertile world by 2045.
This is because these chemicals are “endocrine-disrupting chemicals”, which means they may mimic hormones. Hormones such as the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone regulate your body’s development and are vital for reproduction.
A variety of chemicals have been found to disrupt the endocrine systems of animals in laboratory studies, and there is strong evidence that chemical exposure has been associated with adverse developmental and reproductive effects on both humans and wildlife.
For example, one study by the Journal of Cancer Prevention, demonstrated through the discovery of molecular mechanisms and a particular focus on convincing data from a range of literature, that EDCs are commonly identified in cases of obesity, diseases and cancers.
Humans and other animals have been found to be most vulnerable to EDCs during critical periods of development, such as during fetal development and puberty, as our age plays a critical role in how, or even if, endocrine disruptors have an effect.
We must all learn to combat these toxic chemicals as best we can.
Some may wonder if plastics can be eliminated completely from our daily lives. The existing state of the planet makes it impossible to fully avoid plastics at all times. Despite the fact that exposure is not always avoidable, a few easy activities can be taken to reduce plastic consumption.
- You may reduce your convenience by choosing alternative items made of natural materials.
- Bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store.
- Implement dietary changes to limit such exposure by choosing unprocessed foods.
- Avoid single-use plastic bottles and plastic food packaging.
Beauty products, such as hairsprays, nail polish, and perfumes, also contain phthalates, so look out for phthalate-free and BPA-free products.
Raising awareness of the health concerns posed is a vital first step toward reaching this goal.
People who are aware of the implications of plastic pollution have already begun to act by bringing this issue to the attention of their governments. Nonetheless, there are a number of ways to substantially reduce your plastic exposure and promote a plastic-free future.
Not to ‘save the planet’, but to save ourselves.
A few tips to reduce your exposure to harmful chemical disruptors in a general sense include:
- Buy and eat organic produce and free-range.
- Avoid dairy that contains genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST).
- Avoid eating conventional or farm-raised fish, often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury.
- Buy products that come in glass bottles or jars, rather than plastic or canned.
- Store your food and beverages in glass, rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
- Use glass baby bottles and avoid plastic sippy cups for your little ones.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods are a common source of chemicals.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- Filter your tap water for drinking and bathing.
- Look for products that are made by companies that are earth-friendly.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove house dust.
- When buying furniture, mattresses or carpet, ask what type of fire retardant it contains.
- Avoid stain-and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid PCFs.
- Minimise your use of plastic baby and child toys.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home, or make your own.
- Switch to organic toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics.
- Replace feminine hygiene products like tampons and sanitary pads with safer alternatives.
- Avoid artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
- Look for products that are fragrance-free.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.
Together, we can ensure we give future generations the best hope possible.
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