Plastic pollution is being found in someplace you might not expect–humans. And scientists argue as to how problematic this is. So what does this mean to the human race exactly? Scientists are not exactly sure, but never fear Mamavation is here! We’ve gathered tips and tricks from our advisors on how you can decrease the number of microplastics you have inside your body. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws, how bisphenols are contaminating thermal receipt paper, & scary toxins found inside disposable black plastics, now join us as we explore the implications of having plastic in our poop.
Experts are very concerned about the amount of microplastics humans are exposed to in modern life because plastic is forever. “Plastic is non-degradable. It cannot be broken down and has the potential to persist in our bodies for a lifetime after exposure,” said Stephanie Wright, a researcher at University College London who specializes in microscopic plastic pollution. Other scientists have warned that the smallest piece of plastics, which are referred to as “nanoplastics” are the most problematic because they are small enough to get inside our vital organs, “Microplastics will not enter a cell, but nanoplastics are small enough to cross into cells and permeate the body,” said Anne Marie Mahon, a researcher at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland. Her recent research found microplastics inside sludge in water treatment plants. “It’s possible that chemicals could be absorbed in our circulatory system or pass into our organs. But whether that is happening is unknown,” Mahon said.
The Plastic In Our Poop Study
A Medical University of Vienna Researcher by the name of Philipp Schwabl asked eight participants on four different continents to submit their poop for analysis. They were asked to keep a food diary for a week and record everything they ate, what plastics they used around food, and what brands of personal care products and chewing gum they used. None of the subjects were vegans, and all had consumed food inside plastic wrapping and ate seafood. Afterward, they donated a sample of their stool to an Australian government laboratory where it tested positive for microplastics and some of the following were found,
- microplastics found were smaller than 5 millimeters long
- the most common plastics were found in all participants, including polypropylene and PET
- on average they found 20 particles per 10 grams of stool
The fact that these microplastics were showing up in human feces is not surprising. Microplastics have been showing up in sewage treatment plants for years now because humans, in general, are surrounded by petroleum chemicals. But what is surprising is how much plastic was found. “I did not think all the samples would be positive,” Schwabl said. “There is data on microplastics being present in shrimps, fish, oysters and mussels, but there was a question over whether they were present in humans. It is highly likely that during various steps of food processing or as a result of packaging, food is being contaminated with plastics.”
How Does Plastic Get into Human Poop?
There are many avenues by which plastics can get inside our bodies. Petroleum is inside most things we come into contact with every day. Just take a look in your kitchen, among your utensils, inspect your coffee maker, inside the toy room or your electronics. We are surrounded by modern day inventions and conveniences and that means plastic.
So if we are surrounded in plastic, wouldn’t it make sense that plastic is also getting inside us? Here are some of the avenues by which microplastics can find their way into your life.
- Food packaging & cooking–plastic bottles, plastic wrap, plastic kitchen utensils, plastic food processors, and plastic bowls are used to cook & serve our food. If the contents were ever hot or contain greasy or acidic food like tomato sauce, leaching is very plausible.
- Food containers–When food is stored, especially if it was placed inside when it was hot, leaching is possible. If plastic food containers were ever put inside the dishwasher, the plastic would start to break down and leaching is possible.
- Seafood consumption–over time seafood has tested positive for contaminants like microplastics, PCBs, and heavy metals
- Sea Salt consumption–because microplastics have been accumulating in the ocean, it’s also starting to show up in old-fashioned sea salt. If you are searching for another natural salt, we suggest you try Himalayan.
- Dairy consumption–phthalates, which are a plasticizer, have been found in dairy products, especially the more processed products containing cheese powder like mac and cheese. These chemicals are typically found in the fatty portion of the dairy, so the less fat you consume, the fewer microplastics you’ll consume. Also, the more processed the cheese, the more likely you’ll find phthalates.
- Petroleum-based fibers in your clothes, furniture & carpet–these plastic microfibers get pulled out during the wash and then end up in the ocean. It’s not a good idea to allow microplastics into our oceans because they eventually become the food on our plates. Seafood is consistently testing positive for microplastics.
- Petroleum-based chemicals inside synthetic fragrances–petroleum based hormone disruptors are routinely added to synthetic fragrances to keep them lasting longer
What Can Additives Inside Plastics Do to Human Health?
Plastic contains “indirect additives” that are proprietary, which means companies are under no obligation to tell you what or where they are. And this has become a problem for human health for several reasons. There are about 4,000 chemicals approved as “indirect additives” around food, of which less than 7% of have available reproductive toxicology data and developmental toxicology data was only available for 2 of them. So we know these chemicals can be very problematic, but we don’t know where they are, nor do we know much about them. And every year, the Feds approves more and completely ignores the potential effects to human hormonal health, especially for pregnant women and children. And because of this many independent scientists and pediatricians are saying that the way the Feds evaluate chemicals for safety is very problematic to human health, especially for pregnant women and children.
“Many chemicals used in plastics have not been tested for their endocrine-disrupting effects,” Warhurst said. “Current test methods are not very good at identifying all of them” says Michael Warhurst, Director of European chemical watchdog group CHEM Trust. And what’s worse, is it doesn’t take a large amount of these chemicals to do damage. “For toxins, the more you’re exposed to, the greater the effect. [But] that is not true of hormones,” says he said. “Hormones aren’t toxins; they’re regulatory molecules that operate at a trillionth of a gram level,” says Frederick Vom Saal, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri.
Some of the most common of these “indirect additives” are bisphenols & phthalates. These “indirect additives” are very common in food packaging, toys, floor tiles, water bottles, shower curtains & food storage containers. Not only are pediatricians around the world warning parents of these chemicals, but they have been linked to some very serious modern-day health outcomes we all want to avoid.
- early puberty,
- hyperactivity in children,
- developmental delays,
- lower IQ,
- anxiety & depression,
- degraded sperm quality,
Many countries have restricted or banned several hormone-disrupting chemicals and the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned how dangerous they are around children. However, when one chemical is banned, another one from the same chemical class pops up to replace it that is incredibly similar. When it’s found that the replacement chemical is just as toxic or more toxic, its too late. An example of this is bisphenol-A (BPA) replaced by bisphenol-S (BPS). And today scientists are saying that bisphenol-S (BPS) may be more toxic than the original chemical.
“A lot of chemicals are very similar to known endocrine disruptors. When one gets banned, there are others behind it. Chemical companies are required to provide data but it’s not always comprehensive. There is no strict enforcement and companies can bring chemicals to the market easily. More research is needed and much better control,” said Micheal.
In 2015, there was a systematic review of phthalate exposure to children and how that potentially affects their development. It was concluded that phthalates around children were associated with “cognitive and behavioral outcomes in children, including lower IQ, and problems with attention, hyperactivity, and poorer social communication.”
How To Avoid Microplastics in Your Body, Especially Your Gut
Are these findings problematic to you? Never fear, Mamavation is here! Mamavation has some tips and tricks for you to cut down on the number of microplastics in your body. This is no easy feat because plastics are part of modern life and you’ll never be able to avoid them completely, but you can lessen them inside your body. You’ll need to tackle the following areas of your life: food, food packaging, water, seafood, meat & dairy consumption. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, here are some additional pieces from Mamavation you’ll find of use.
- Try These 10 Waste-Free Products for a Plastic-Free Lifestyle
- Ten Reasons to Avoid Plastic Kitchen Utensils
- The Scary Truth About Black Plastic–Dangerous Contamination Through Recycled Materials
- What’s the Big Deal About Plastic Straws?–The Strawless Movement
How to Start Avoiding Microplastics in Your Food
Microplastic contamination in food is incredibly ubiquitous. There are several major ways microplastics are finding their way into your food:
- meat & dairy,
- sea salt
- food packaging,
- kitchen utensils,
- food processors
- food storage containers
Meat & dairy products are surrounded by plastic every step of the way. Specifically the more full-fat dairy you consume, the more phthalates will be found in your body. And the most problematic is powdered cheese products that are inside mac & cheese or snack foods. From the plastic tubing that is used to milk the cows, to the containers they are stored in, to the processing at the factory, to the containers they are stored in on the shelves, dairy has become increasingly problematic when it comes to exposing us to the perils of microplastics. Yes, even organic dairy. Fortunately, you’ll find fewer phthalates inside products like low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt. And that’s because phthalates bind to the fat. Therefore low-fat products are also lower in phthalates and Mamavation recommends purchasing low-fat for this reason.
Meat & seafood are similar whereas they are stored in plastic. But seafood is additionally problematic because the breaking down of plastic in the ocean has lead to an increasing amount of microplastics inside seafood. Now if you can accept the fact that seafood has an increasing amount of microplastics, it shouldn’t surprise you that sea salt is also testing positive for microplastics.
Food packaging is another area microplastics sneak into your food. The “indirect additives” inside plastic start to leach whenever fat, acid or heat is present. Because those heat, fat & acid are common around food, assume plastic food packaging and storage containers are going to leach. And that also includes cans because it’s very common for cans to be lined with bisphenols to prevent rust. The same rules apply to kitchen utensils, food processors, and food storage containers that are made of plastic.
Therefore here are some basic tips to avoid microplastics in food:
- cut down on full-fat dairy products
- cut down on products containing powdered cheese
- cut down on seafood
- avoid sea salt
- avoid storing your food in plastic
- avoid consuming food that has been wrapped in plastic
- avoid consuming food that was previously stored in cans
- avoid drinking soda or sparkling water that has been stored inside cans or plastic
- avoid drinking water from plastic
- avoid using plastic straws to drink
- avoid using plastic kitchen utensils to cook
- opt for food processors made of glass and stainless steel instead of plastic
How to Avoid Microplastics Inside the Air You Breathe
Another way plasticizers find their way into your body is through your synthetic fragrances in your home. Phthalates, the same plasticizer discussed above, are also added to fragrances to keep the smell lasting longer. The two things you’ll need to do here is (1) avoid synthetic fragrances and (2) do more dusting.
When it comes to synthetic fragrances, take a big sniff. What do you smell? Could it be a potpourri, a Glad Plug-in, stinky spray from the bathroom, or a scented candle? All of those products will have to go because they contain synthetic fragrances that are likely contaminated with phthalates.
Then after these plastics and fragrances break down, they become part of everyday dust. Contaminants like phthalates and fire retardants are attracted to household dust like a magnet. Therefore, dusting your home frequently will reduce the number of microplastics you are exposed to by breathing. Mamavation has a FREE eBook available on how to clean up your indoor air quality in your home by filling out the form below.
How to Avoid Microplastics in Your Personal Care Products
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid microplastics in your personal care products because of how they are stored. Most personal care products are stored in plastic bottles that have the ability to leach when heat, fat or acid is in play. But even if they are stored in glass bottles, you don’t know how the original ingredients were stored before they were assembled at the factory. I learned this fact when I walked by the shipping yard of very popular natural shampoo company one day on my way to a news interview. Every single ingredient was stored in these large plastic containers and they were baking in the heat of the sun. I don’t think this practice is uncommon. So when it comes to personal care products, if you make them yourself, you’ll lessen the amount inside your body, but you’ll never be able to completely get rid of them. So I would recommend you tackle this part of your life last just to keep the crazy at a minimum.
We Can’t Escape Plastic But We Can Decrease How Much We Use
In times like these, it’s obvious that we need to take action to save the human species from microplastics. Researchers are estimating that Americans spend over $340 BILLION per year on health care expenses linked to the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, similar to the microplastics we find in our poop. Europe was over $270 BILLION. I actually think that’s great news because we know that lessening these dangerous chemicals in our life can reduce this number. So what do you do?
- Take steps in your home to lessen plastic and avoid chemicals that are dangerous to hormonal health
- Support elected officials that stand behind the consumer and their hormonal health
- Purchase from better companies that are doing the right thing to help them grow
Hi. Thanks for the info. Absolutely insane. I consider myself extremely “woke” (even more so lately with health issues) and have always tried to live healthy /organic/green /clean/eco/ toxicant free and STILL somehow I’m continuously shocked at what we are exposed to and what is allowed in products of all categories. Sea salt … come on!? ???? I always hate when people say “everything gives you (insert illness)” but more and more it seems that way. My response is that we can control the things in our home and what we put in and on our bodies and not so much what we are exposed to in public. So keeping it very simple/basic seems to be the only way to go and now making your own personal care products and storing them in glass! ???? Very challenging for even the most motivated… sadly, what about the people who aren’t motivated or informed.
Great article !
Something very worrisome..
Invisalign plastic aligners. Orthodontic appliance to correct teeth alignment.
You wear the aligners 22 hrs day, 24/7
Treatment varies 6 months – 2 years
Plastic in the mouth under conditions of grinding, 36.9 c, bacteria and acids of saliva naturally present.
Clearly you are eating plastic
Would love to see a study of this to monitor how much plastic is injested thus the health risks
Not by any company producing aligners as its a billion dollar business and they,would hide any negative results
Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
All good stuff, Mamavation! A type of microplastics known as microbeads is intentionally added to many personal care products as tiny scrubbers. Please choose products that have no added microbeads. Also, these tiny microplastics are great homes for chemical junk like pesticide residues which hitch a ride on the microplastic. So when you ingest the microplastic you’re getting an unhealthy dose of toxics on top of it. Ugh!
Thanks for chiming in Jeanne!
Wow, how scary is that! I wouldn’t even have thought about that!
This has gone from theory to fact. Unfortunate and yes, very scary! Thanks for stopping by Melissa!