Plastic pollution leads to microplastics in the gut.

The world has a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action.

In a small pilot study presented at UEG Week 2018, researchers found microplastics in human stool samples, likely caused by increased plastic pollution and plastic contamination of food.

Philip Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna, and colleagues wrote that plastic accumulates in the ocean where it can be ingested by sea creatures like tuna, lobster and shrimp and then enters the human food supply.

“This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut,” Schwabl said in a press release. “Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases.”

Investigators included eight healthy patients from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria in a prospective pilot study. The participants documented daily food intake for a week before collecting a sample of approximately 100 g of stool.

Researchers separated any organic solids in the samples and examined any remaining particles between 50 µm and 500 µm in size using Fourier-transform infrared micro-spectroscopy.

Schwabl and colleagues found nine different kinds of plastics between the 50 µm to 500 µm size range. The most common were polystyrene and polyurethane. On average, they identified 20 microplastic particles per 10 g of stool.

Researchers are currently optimizing their stool-sample separation techniques to clear more non-plastics and improve their ability to identify more plastics.

“While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver,” Schwabl said in the release. “Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”

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