Irritable bowel syndrome linked to more microplastics in gut
Researchers at China’s Nanjing University in Science have made a shocking discovery: they found that adults with irritable bowel disease (IBD) had 50% more microplastics in their stool than those without the diagnosis.
The new study examined fecal samples from 52 people with IBD — a classification that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — and 50 people without, all from different regions of China. Researchers found that samples from those with IBD contained 1½ times more microplastic particles per gram than the control group — a jump from 28 pieces per gram to 41.8.
Their findings reveal a connection between microplastics and IBD, though it remains uncertain whether they could either cause the illness or exacerbate a problem that already existed.
“The positive correlation between fecal microplastics and IBD status suggests that microplastic exposure may be related to the disease process or that IBD exacerbates the retention of microplastics,” they wrote.
“Human ingestion of microplastics is inevitable due to the ubiquity of microplastics in various foods and drinking water,” added the report, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. “Whether the ingestion of microplastics poses a substantial risk to human health is far from understood.”
Each week humans ingest an estimated credit card’s worth of plastic grit that measure no more than five millimeters in diameter each, according to the World Wildlife Federation. It’s a disturbing thought — about a relatively new issue in the human diet.
And the fact that certain diseases are on the rise globally may not be a coincidence.
These days, microplastics can be found at every stop of the food chain, from the bellies of fish to baby bottles, and out the other end in a cycle that continues long before the plastic ever breaks down.
The plastics noted in the new study may come from a variety of sources. Of all the samples, 15 different types of plastic were present in the feces of participants, with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyamide more prevalent in the chemical profile.
Part of the polyester family, PET is one of the most widely used types, found in clothing fibers, coating the interior of food and drink containers and other forms of manufacturing. Polyamides generally are also found in garments, upholstery, carpeting, rope fibers and, notably, fishing nets — a huge source of plastic pollution in our oceans.
“The plastic packaging of drinking water and food and dust exposure are important sources of human exposure to microplastics,” the authors wrote in their report.
Sources of the plastics were far-flung, scientists discovered, from across, and within, the Atlantic Ocean as tiny trash particles are flung into the water cycle — rising up in the air from the sea as water evaporates and traveling via jet streams to resettle elsewhere, perhaps as dust or even with the rain.
Even our drinking water and the air we breathe have been tainted. Just last week, the French national research institute CNRS released findings from a years-long study that revealed microplastics in the atmosphere at 9,439 feet above sea level, near the Pic du Midi Observatory in the French Pyrenees — ironically dubbed a “clean station” for its remote location, according to The Guardian.