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Plastic: It’s in Our Blood

Find out how to protect yourself in a world made of microplastic

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Plastic: It’s in Our Blood

Plastic is all around us. From the always-overflowing recycling bin in the corner of your kitchen, or the overwhelming amount of plastic waste lining our coastlines, to the teeny tiny microplastics that leech into our laundry water, this man-made material has permeated every aspect of our lives … including us. Considering the ubiquity of plastic, perhaps it comes as no surprise that microplastics—fragments of plastic less than five millimeters in size—are passing through you. These fragments originate from the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe. In fact, one study estimates that the average American consumes around 50,000 plastic particles each year.

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Made of microplastic

However, for the first time, a biomonitoring study found that plastic isn’t just passing through us … it’s staying in us. Researchers in the Netherlands found that 80 percent of study participants had absorbed plastic particles into their bloodstream.

It's disconcerting that little, unseen bits of the plastic products we use or encounter daily can dislodge and find their way into our bodies. However, it’s even more unsettling that they can then be absorbed—along with any chemicals they contain—into the circulatory system. They’re then distributed alongside oxygen and essential nutrients throughout our bodies.

It’s currently not known what percentage makes it into the bloodstream compared to the amount we consume, but we do know that the speed of absorption is faster than the body’s ability to excrete these particles as waste, allowing for buildup.

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How do we know?

To come to this conclusion, blood from 22 healthy adults was collected. Researchers then conducted tests to measure for known byproducts that are produced as specific plastics break down under increased temperatures.

Five main, high-production polymers were found, which included

  • poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), used in medical applications like dental work
  • polypropylene (PP), used in a variety of applications from yogurt cups to condiment bottles
  • polymerized styrene (PS), often used in single-use and disposable applications
  • polyethylene (PE), the most common plastic, found in plastic wrap, grocery bags, milk cartons, and drain pipes
  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used in plastic bottles, food containers, electronics, and clothing fibers

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The more we know, the more we don’t know

This small study shows that plastics are being absorbed into human blood. However, more studies need to be conducted to find out what this really means for us. That is, to determine how, or if, microplastics affect our health, and what this looks like long-term.

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What can you do?

In the meantime, there are several ways to limit plastic exposure in our day-to-day lives. Here are just a few to get you on the right track:

  • Ensure your home is well ventilated to reduce exposure to airborne microplastics, which may originate from plastic products used in your home.
  • Leave plastic water bottles in the past; they’re a major source of microplastic exposure.
  • Trade cling wrap and plastic food containers for beeswax wraps and glass or metal alternatives.
  • Ditch plastic bags and opt for reusable alternatives that you’ll love and carry with you for years to come.

Choose infant feeding bottles, kids cups, and plastic dishware carefully to avoid unwanted chemicals. If more expensive alternatives like glass (beware: breakable) and metal aren’t an option, you can reduce the shed of microplastics by avoiding heating plastic bottles—that means no microwave and washing by hand in warm, not hot, water; storing milk in a separate container, not the plastic bottle; and not shaking liquid in the plastic bottle.

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