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So back in March a study was published on microplastics found in the human body. For the first time, microplastics have been discovered in peoples’ lungs, and there is only really one explanation for this.

For the first time, researchers found that 17 out of 22 people had microplastics originating from common products in their blood, according to a May 2021 paper published in the journal Environment International.1

“This is the first study to identify plastics that we know are in containers, plastic bottles, clothing, and other products that we use, inside of people,” Andrea De Vizcaya-Ruiz, PhD, an associate professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Irvine, tells SELF. The two most common types of plastic found in the study were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make plastic water bottles and clothing fibers, and polystyrene, which is found in food packaging, disposable utensils, and straws.

In March 2022, researchers published a paper with another original discovery: 11 out of 13 people had microplastics in their lungs, according to the study published in The Science of the Total Environment.2 Numerous other studies support that we’re regularly consuming plastic, Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist at MedStar Health in Washington, D.C., and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, tells SELF. “Microplastics have been found in human saliva, scalp hair, and feces, suggesting that we are all likely exposed to these plastic fragments on a regular basis,” she says.

Microplastics are harmful, that much is obvious. They get into the blood and lungs and can cause serious problems. There is no conclusive evidence at this point, but any basic understanding of biology will show that it’s not a good idea to ingest things that are not food.

“Even though microplastics are known to enter the human body, scientists still don’t know how the body processes, metabolizes, or eliminates these particles. And the exact dose of microplastics needed to cause disease still remains unknown,” Dr. Johnson-Arbor says. That said, experts have a few concerns about finding microplastics in humans.

For instance, scientists are studying whether microplastics may contribute to inflammation in the digestive system. People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) had higher amounts of microplastics in their stool compared to people without IBD, according to a small study of 102 people published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.7

Microplastics can absorb heavy metals and pesticides found in our environment, which we then absorb indirectly, adding another element that needs to be studied. “This could increase our exposure to these chemicals and could lead to poisonous effects,” Dr. Johnson-Arbor says.

Plastics also commonly contain additives like phthalates, which help with flexibility, and Bisphenol-A (BPA), which makes products resilient. Some studies suggest these additives have some effect on our bodies; for example, BPA has been linked to metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However there isn’t enough evidence to say these chemicals are harmful to people in the tiny doses we get from food packages, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The theory I have relating to this that is plausible, and practically obvious is that the disposable masks we’ve all been wearing to prevent the spread of COVID have these microplastics in them, and breathing through them could possibly their ingestion through the respiratory system. We’ve seen through other studies microplastics in human blood and the digestive system, stemming from eating foods packaged in plastics, so it’s not difficult to see that having a piece of plastic covering your mouth and nose for hours at a time can cause you to breathe in microplastics.

After consuming food or water containing microplastics, researchers suspect those tiny particles make their way to the gut, through the intestinal membrane, and into the bloodstream, Dr. De Vizcaya-Ruiz says. Something similar may happen when microplastics enter the bloodstream after being inhaled and passing through the membrane of the lungs.

Just something to keep in mind.

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