I picked up Consumer Reports magazine this week and the headlines on the front cover reads:

                                              “HOW TO EAT LESS PLASTIC”

The article highlights that, on average, we are consuming a credit cards worth of plastic a day!

Last time I looked, plastic was not considered an essential nutrient in our diet!

So how is it that we are consuming, on average, 5 grams of plastic a week?  What are the effects on our body? How can we minimize our consumption of these plastics?

 

Researchers are finding tiny bits of plastic, called microplastic, in our food, our drinking water and even in the air we breathe.  Although plastics appear to be stable, over time they break down into tiny fragments, smaller than 5 mm, and end up in our environment and then in our body. In a small but world-wide study (1), scientists found nine different types of plastic in the stool of every person who participated. It is likely that microplastics are in all of us.

This shouldn’t be surprising since plastics are ubiquitous in our modern day lifestyle.  Plastics are in almost every product we use on a daily basis. Obvious sources such as water bottles, containers and plastic bags, and less obvious sources including clothing, personal care products, toothbrushes, laundry and dishwasher pods, and the case on your smartphone. These plastics, no doubt, improve our lives in many ways, but they can also cause environmental pollution and pose potential risks to our health.

So what are the health risks of these plastics?  

  • They can get it into the tissues of our body and cause systemic inflammation
  • There is some evidence that they can cross the membrane that protects our brain from foreign bodies in our bloodstream
  • They can be a magnet for other toxins and make it harder for our bodies to eliminate toxins
  • They expose us to harmful chemicals like bisphenols, phthalates, styrene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Bisphenols and phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and interfere with our hormones.  Our hormones are essential to every system of our body, from our reproductive and immune systems to our musculoskeletal system.  These chemicals have even been shown to interfere with bone metabolism and trigger bone cell death in animals studies.

Styrene, a chemical found in plastic and food packaging, has been linked to nervous system problems, hearing loss and cancer.

Microplastics in our body can also expose us to PCB’s, which have been linked to various cancers, a weakened immune system, and reproductive problems.

Now as alarming as this might seem, I want you to take a deep breath, because there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the consumption of these plastics.

 

Minimizing our exposure to microplastics:

  • Limit the use of plastic water bottles. A study out of the State University of NY found that bottled water contained nearly twice as many pieces of microplastic than tap water.  I know a lot of people are weary about drinking tap water as well, so buy a good water filter and fill up your own bottles. Glass or stainless steel bottles are the safest.
  • Switch to glass or ceramic food storage containers.  Storing foods or beverages in plastic containers for long periods will cause the accumulation of microplastics in the foods. If using plastic, check the number printed on the bottom of the container. The plastic containers that have #2, #4 and #5 printed at the bottom, are considered safer for food storage. Containers with a #1, are a single-use container and meant to be used only once and they recycled.
  • Never heat up plastics. Heating up food in a plastic container will cause the plastic and leach chemicals into your food. The same for plastic water bottles and plastic wraps. If you are going to heat something up in the microwave, you a glass or ceramic dish and cover with a paper towel, wax paper or parchment paper.
  • When shopping, use paper bags, or your own reusable shopping bags. Best is to try to limit the amount of food that you buy that is packed in plastic wrap. Consider purchasing mesh bags to put your produce in when shopping.
  • Choose natural personal care products. Take a look at your toothpaste, facial scrubs and soaps. If they list polyethylene in the ingredients, those are microplastics.
  • Keep a clean house. Believe it or not, dust particles in our homes have been shown to have a high concentration of microplastics and their associated chemicals. Dusting and vacuuming regularly can prevent the buildup of dust in our homes.
  • Keep your body healthy.  By eating clean, exercising, getting good quality sleep and keeping your stress in check, you can support your detoxification systems which will allow enhance your body’s ability to eliminate microplastics and their chemicals.

These are just a few ways you can start to reduce the consumption of microplastics, however, with all the plastics in our world, we are never going to get down to a zero exposure.  What I don’t want is for you to drive yourself crazy with worry, because that is not good for you either!  My advice is that on a daily basis, do what you can do to reduce the amount of plastics in your life.

 

References:

1. Schwabl, P. et al, 2018. Assessment of microplastic concentrations in human stool – Preliminary results of a prospective study, Presented at UEG Week 2018 Vienna, October 24, 2018

 

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