Although previous studies have suggested that humans could be ingesting thousands of microplastics through seafood and leached plastic, there has been no solid evidence of this… Until now.

Microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic debris resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. For the first time, microplastics have been found in human stools in a study that suggests that these tiny particles may now be widespread in the human food chain.

The study looked at eight participants from all over the world and showed that all of their stool samples contained microplastic particles. Polypropylene (widely used in ropes to make them light enough to float in water) and polyethylene terephthalate (commonly used in fibres for clothing and plastic food/liquid containers) were the plastics most commonly found. The source of these microplastics could have been plastic bottles, food wrapped in plastic or seafood.

Based on this study, the authors estimated that more than 50% of the world population may have microplastics in their body.

This is the first study of its kind that confirms what has long-been suspected; that plastics are ultimately being ingested by humans and having an impact on human health. The smallest microplastic particles may enter the bloodstream, lymphatic system, and might even reach the liver. The primary concern of plastic particles at this stage is gut health, as they could affect the digestive system’s immune response. Moreover, in sea mammals, microplastics are believed to be damaging to fertility.

Going forward, further research is required to determine the exact impact microplastics can have on human health.

Plastic use is now so abundant in modern life that removing it entirely from the food chain would be extremely difficult. 1 million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute, with this number expected to increase by a further 20% by 2021.

However, the pressure for action is growing. Several nations around the world have banned plastic bags entirely, with a growing number of cities making moves to ban straws or all single-use plastic items. All small changes in your own daily life to reduce plastic use will make a difference.

Study resource: 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.