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Microplastics: The invisible health crisis

Dr Ross Walker
22 February 2022

We are constantly being reminded that one of the keys to good health is to eat and drink good quality food and fluid. But, although there has been increasing evidence and publicity around the synthetic chemicals we are exposed to daily, most people seem to be ignoring this information.

A recent study from the University of Copenhagen published in the journal with the very unfortunate name, the Journal of Hazardous Materials, demonstrated that after 24 hours of water being stored in a plastic bottle, hundreds of synthetic chemicals are detected. 

This includes over 400 different substances from the plastic bottle itself and at least a further 3,500 substances if the bottle is washed in the dishwasher.

However, the levels of these chemicals are typically so low that we are not sure about any potential toxicity. The study looked at variations on the theme of plastic bottle use and reuse. The researchers tested the bottles before and after dishwasher use and with five extra rinses in tap water.

In other studies, it has been shown that, in certain doses, these chemicals can cause anything from disruption to your endocrine system which controls all of your hormones and/or potentially being carcinogenic.

A recent review from Medical News Today reviewed our current level of knowledge about what is known as microplastics in food. These microplastics are found in all forms of food packaging, of which plastic water bottles are one example. But, microplastics are found in any container that is used for food packaging.

As a simple example, open your refrigerator and see how much of the food is stored in some form of plastic container.

The Medical News Today article lists the common types of microplastic chemicals, which include:

1) Bisphenol A - essential in the production of polyvinyl chloride, the parent plastic of most products in this range;
2) Dioxin - a source of herbicide and paper bleaching;
3) Phthalates - used to make plastics more flexible, transparent and durable; and
4) Polyethylene + polypropylene - used to make packaging more lightweight and durable.

The article mentions a number of other microplastics with equally unpronounceable names, none of which sound particularly safe.

What can these chemicals potentially do?

1) Endocrine disruptors – all the common hormones in the body including estrogen, testosterone and insulin may have their natural functions disrupted by any of these chemicals. Studies have shown in the past that BP-A may increase infertility in males and females along with increasing the risk for polycystic ovaries.

2) Chronic disease – there is a link between these microplastics, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Microplastics are pro-inflammatory; exacerbating insulin resistance, the most common genetic abnormality in the world that affects 30% of Caucasians, 50% of Asians and close to 100% of people with darker or olive skin.

3) Altered immunity – the microplastics also affect the gut microbiome, noting 70% of the immune system is localized in the gut. Excessive Microplastics from the regular use of packaged food and drinking bottled water from plastic containers creates an overabundance of unhealthy bacteria which are associated with a variety of systemic diseases including Parkinson's disease.

A variety of studies have suggested that these microplastics are very common in people who regularly consume water from a plastic container but there is also a disturbing amount of exposure in the inhalation of microplastics from non-food sources.

The bottom line here is to avoid, as much as is possible, processed foods stored in containers, use only eco-friendly packaging and also drink from a glass or stainless steel bottle.

I wrote a book many years ago called Diets Don't Work and one of the chapters in the book was titled 'Convenience is killing us'. Processed packaged food and the containers used to store this food are very convenient but the evidence is mounting that this convenience is truly killing us.

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