Try not to use plastic utensils.
Our entire planet is riddled with microplastic particles. It has long been found in fish and other marine life. But we eat them. We drink water in which microplastics dissolve. We eat vegetables and fruits that grow in soil saturated with tiny plastic particles. It would be naive to think that all this does not affect the human body. But traditionally, research is first conducted on more accessible objects, whose different organs can be studied from top to bottom. Therefore, recent scientific work reveals the effects of microplastics on the body and brain of experimental mice. Let’s say it right away: the results are shocking. But maybe the consequences for people will be even milder? How to correctly perceive the received scientific data? What else is known about the impact of microplastics on wildlife, including humans? We talked about this with an expert in evidence-based medicine, neuroendocrinologist, candidate of medical sciences, associate professor of the Department of Endocrinology of the Faculty of Medicine of the Russian National Research Medical University named after him. NI Pirogov Yuri Poteshkin.
“WHERE THERE ARE MICE, THERE ARE PEOPLE”
“The study by scientists at the University of Rhode Island, on the one hand, is scary, but on the other it is encouraging,” says the expert. – The appearance of this scientific work demonstrates that there is a growing demand in society to prevent dangerous disturbances in wildlife due to microplastics. Yes, there is enough everywhere and several of its consequences are irreversible. But people still began to seriously think and study how this affects living organisms. Everything related to fish has been known for a long time and until now few people have cared about it. But it turns out that mice suffer too. And these are mammals, like us.
– What is the most important thing about the new study?
– There are unexpected data that surprised both me and the researchers themselves. They added microplastics to the food and drink of experimental mice. Then they did an autopsy and found out: it penetrates all organs! It even overcomes the blood-brain barrier, a powerful “filter” between the body’s circulatory system and the brain (most medications cannot overcome it. – Ed.).
– What happens in the end?
– Microplastic particles cause alterations and malfunction of all organs.
But mice are small. As they say, they don’t need much. Dangerous consequences appear quite quickly and noticeably, notes Yuri Poteshkin. A person is larger, so we do not feel these problems as clearly. At least for now, we do not associate certain ailments with the effects of microplastics that are deposited in our organs.
“SURVIVAL TEST FAILED”
– Which organs are most affected by the accumulation of microplastics?
– Most of it was found in the gastrointestinal tract. From the intestinal cells, microplastics are absorbed into the blood. It passes well through cell membranes (cell membranes – Ed.).
– Are the failures that cause the accumulation of microplastics in organs irreversible forever?
– The mice were soon dissected, so for them it was irreversible. But before the autopsy, several tests were carried out to find out how microplastics affect behavior (that is, essentially, the functioning of the brain. – Ed.). There are two standard tests. One of them is when the rodents are released into a large cage, where they can run around corners; This is what healthy mice do. Those that were “poisoned” with microplastics remained in the center, which is not typical for normal animals. The second test is “light-dark”: mice are given access to areas with different lighting. Healthy animals always run towards the dark. And after microplastics, this natural reaction is altered and they remain in the light.
– This behavior seems like a loss of self-preservation, doesn’t it?
– Normal reactions in this type of text are the key to survival. And after the microplastics enter the body, the mice obviously cease to adequately perceive reality. Problems arise at the deepest level.
NEUROINFLAMMATION AND BRAIN DEGRADATION
In experiments with mice, scientists noticed an important pattern, says Yuri Poteshkin. The degree of negative impact of microplastics increased with age. The older the rodents were, the more pronounced their organ failures and behavioral disorders. “In humans, an age-dependent effect is also assumed,” says the expert.
– Yuri, neurologists and psychiatrists talk about an increase in the number of dementias and other mental disorders. And it’s not just about the fact that more and more people are living to old age, when these diseases start. Could the accumulation of microplastics in our body cause adverse processes in the brain? Including memory problems, which modern people of all ages are increasingly complaining about?
– Using the example of mice, scientists have confirmed that microplastics cause inflammation wherever they penetrate in the body. Neuroinflammation (i.e. in the central nervous system) is scary. In particular, inflammatory markers are almost always elevated in dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and other serious neurological diseases.
– Maybe the human body is still able to gradually process microplastics and remove them?
– Evolutionarily, our body is not adapted to metabolize plastic. Therefore, if it ends up inside the organs, it will unfortunately remain there. And it will provoke chronic inflammation (the extent to which the body is able to “extinguish” this dangerous latent inflammation depends on age, the state of the immune system and concomitant diseases. – Ed.).
Plastic also contains substances that alter the endocrine system and fat metabolism, adds the expert. This can lead to excessive weight gain even without overeating. These obesity-promoting chemicals are called “obesogens.”
Did you feel afraid? Can something be done? “Microplastics are already everywhere. It has filled the world’s oceans, it is monstrous,” Yuri Poteshkin shrugs.
– Doctor, what should we do?
– There are two approaches. The first is reasonable consumption. The second is proper disposal. Let’s say you’re walking through a forest, a park, or a beach. You see plastic bottles and containers. All this is a source of danger. Everyone knows that plastic takes about 300 years to decompose. But few people think that it is during its decomposition that microplastic is formed. And before complete decomposition takes several centuries, we will all inhale, eat or drink microscopic plastic particles. Therefore, I urge everyone: if you see such garbage somewhere, do not pass by, pick it up and throw it in a plastic container (from the editor: unfortunately, in most of our regions it is still necessary to look for such containers). Please understand that the issue of microplastics affects you personally and directly now.
– Switch to reasonable consumption. For example, milk can be purchased in a glass bottle, plastic bottle or tetra pack. Of all of them, the tetrapack is the most difficult and worst to recycle, explains the expert. And, unfortunately, it is the most common. Many people think that it is paper, but in reality it is a “sandwich” of plastic, paper and other substances. Microplastics are perfectly formed from it.
– Do not reuse plastic containers, especially after their expiration date. “Mineral water and other products are usually packaged in freshly made plastic bottles and other containers,” says Yuri Poteshkin. – And microplastic particles are formed during decomposition, under the influence of ultraviolet radiation, temperature and humidity. If the production technology is followed, during the shelf life there should be no penetration of microplastics into mineral water and other products.” But if you store empty bottles and containers at your dacha to be used in some way on the farm, then it is a very bad idea. Nobody here will give you security guarantees.
– Try not to use plastic utensils. “There are super resistant plastics that say that the containers can be heated in the microwave. Its use in any case aggravates the problem of plastic pollution on our planet. But at least the risk to the consumer’s health is minimal,” explains the expert. “The use of disposable plastic utensils is not justified from any point of view.” When the temperature increases, such products will immediately begin to disintegrate, releasing microplastic particles.
– Stop taking plastic bags from stores. “Now it has become fashionable to promote so-called green packages. People are told they are made of a special plastic that breaks down more easily and quickly. Yes, it’s true, it just breaks down into that dangerous microplastic, warns Yuri Poteshkin. – Rag string bags, reusable nets for vegetables – this is what you should strive for. I myself have been using them for a long time and I encourage everyone else.”
TO THE POINT
What else is destroying our health, according to new data?
Another scientific work recently came out with alarming data. The study was also carried out in mice. But the results, as with microplastics, can be safely transmitted to humans, says neuroendocrinologist Yuri Poteshkin.
Scientists from Barcelona administered water supplemented with emulsifiers (carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80) to mice. Today, these substances can be found in a large number of products, between 25 and 50% of the supermarket assortment, the authors of the study point out.
– Emulsifiers are found in ice cream, mayonnaise, margarine, potato chips and confectionery products. They are found in some types of cheese, in sour cream and in all those places where during production it is necessary to mix water with fat, explains the expert.
What did scientists discover? It turned out that emulsifiers, even in the absence of carbohydrates, increase blood glucose levels. And, in general, they cause metabolic alterations, which lead to a large number of problems. This can be a shock to the microbiome, leading to immune system disruptions and inflammation. Behavior is altered: for example, mice came to light in the light-dark test (see above).
IN PLACE OF EXIT
When we see individual studies about the relatively minor harm of a particular substance in small doses, this seems to reassure us. But we must understand: there are a huge number of these “ingredients” in our lives now! All together they have a surprise effect, notes metabolism expert Yuri Poteshkin. That is why it is very important that its effects are studied so closely. It is an enormous job and behind it lies a colossal future, says the doctor.
In the meantime, experts consider eating simple foods that have not been deeply processed to be the most useful and safe approach. That is, no emulsifiers, stabilizers, colorants were added, evaporation was not carried out, etc. And try to minimize the presence of plastic in your life, where it depends on you.