Plastics & Immune Toxicity
Updated: Feb 13
Microplastics and nanoplastcs are found everywhere in the world and now it’s found in your blood too- and that’s a problem. It was only a few years ago the WHO reported that drinking micropalstics were not yet a threat to human health due to limited evidence, but now research is coming out showing how microplastics could affect the immune system. And come on, how safe could drinking microplastics really be?
What are micro/nano plastics?
There is no agreed definition of what either are, but in the literature, microplastic is often defined as “plastic particles up to 5 mm in dimensions with no defined lower size limit.” Nanoplastic’ is a term for plastic particles in the submicron range, <1 μm. In the nanotechnology field, ‘nanoplastic’ may refer to engineered particles <100 nm, i.e. the nanotechnology application size limit.” Both can originate from engineered material or can be produced by the fragmentation of larger plastic particles.
Plastics are so pervasive in our daily lives (packaging, cosmetics, household goods, electrical and electronic equipment, furniture, wrinkle creams, soaps, shampoos, shaving cream, sunscreen lotions, makeup, bubble baths, etc) it is hard to avoid. Recently, it has even been found in popular sports bras.
“Due to limited recycling and the lack of regulations limiting plastic waste, plastics (and especially nano- and microplastics) have contaminated aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric environments worldwide. Plastics are present in our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes, and have even reached the Arctic sea ice." *
So how do these micro & nanoplastics get into our bodies?
It can enter in a variety of ways: you breathe it in, eat it, put it on your skin, in your water, in the oceans, in the soil- it is literally everywhere.
Ingesting it and breathing them in are the most common ways. In major cities, it is called “city air” and if you live in LA or other major cities, you’ve probably seen it.
Depending on the plastic particle size, both ingested and inhaled plastics are able to interact with your gut, reach the bloodstream, penetrate your organs, cross the blood brain barrier, and (potentially) dysregulate the immune response.
Specific plastics found in our blood include:
BPA (receipts, sports bras, toys, canned food lining, etc)
Phthalates (shampoos, soaps, hair spray, etc)
Polyethylene terephthalate- PET (water bottles, glittter)
Polyethylene (food packaging)
What are microplastics doing to the immune system?
Well, in numerous animal studies, these plastics were messing up the gut environment. Exposure to the plastics lead to gut inflammation, increased oxidative stress which lead to inflammation, gut dysbiosis, impaired gut function, immune cell toxicity, and most important to autoimmune diseases- a disruption of gut permeability (aka leaky gut). Although there are few studies on humans, they concluded that it does add to the growing evidence that this could promote the development of chronic immune disorders.
Researchers also found that, “microplastics contain additives, adsorb contaminants, and may promote the growth of bacterial pathogens on their surfaces [biofilms]: they are potential carriers of intestinal toxicants and pathogens that can potentially lead to further adverse effects.”
Overall, not looking good for anyone who has an autoimmune disease.
Ok, so what can you do about it?
A great place to start is to reduce your exposure to plastics. If you are using a lot of plastics especially with your foods, drinks, and home use, then this would be a good place to start. See what you can replace with stainless steel, glass, ceramics, etc.
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your detox pathways are open. This is one way plastics can get out of your body.
Your detox organs include:
Lungs: breathing/exercise, breathing protocols
Skin: sweating/sauna, exercise
Gut: bowel movements/coffee colonics, proper nutrition & gut health
Liver: main organ for detoxification/all of the above
Herbal support for detoxification include herbs like milk thistle, dandelion, burdock which can aid phases of detoxification. Other supplements like glutathione, curcumin, and spirulina also help support your detoxification pathways.
Supporting your detoxification pathways is becoming more relevant in a world that is increasingly toxic and although it is hard to avoid micro & nanoplastics in your environment, you can ensure your body is functioning at its best to process and eliminate toxin exposures by applying these steps. Like everything else in naturopathic medicine, this is just one part to a creating healthy and balanced immune system.
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