New Study Finds Microplastics in Human Poop.
You are what you eat—and what you’re eating is microplastics.
A new study finds that people across the globe are consuming traces of these environmental contaminants, which include polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and other man-made substances. Although their effect on human health is unclear, some evidence suggests that microplastics—which are particles less than 5 mm in size—can disrupt the normal function of the gastrointestinal tract.
For the study, researchers the Medical University of Vienna and Environment Agency Austria looked for 10 forms of microplastics in stool samples from eight people in eight countries: Austria, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Participants in the study kept food diaries, which showed that they often ate products wrapped in plastic. None was a vegetarian, and six reported being fish eaters, according to the researchers. Fish, mollusks and other foods from the ocean—including sea salt—are known to contain microplastics in varying levels.
The researchers found traces of nine types of plastic in the stool samples, ranging in size from 50 to 500 mcm. The average 10-g sample of stool contained 20 particles of microplastics.
“This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut,” Philipp Schwabl, MD, of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Medical University of Vienna, who helped conduct the research, said in a statement. “Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases. While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver. Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”
The global output of plastic has risen from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to 381 million metric tons in 2015, according to the researchers. The researchers presented their findings at the 2018 United European Gastroenterology Week.