While the world has been focused on Covid-19 another plague has grown in scale, and will ultimately affect the health of far more people than the Covid virus: plastic toxicity.

Plastic is toxic to humans and animals, but since the exposure happens slowly it takes a while to accumulate to the point where it manifests in a noticeable health condition.

The creep is so insidious that tens of millions of people are already suffering health conditions that may be attributable, in full or part, to plastic toxicity. For example, a 2021 study conducted at Nanjing University in Nanjing, China found that adults with irritable bowel disease had 50% more microplastics in their stool than those without the diagnosis.

Yummy spoonfulls of plastic

According to a 2019 study conducted at the University of Newcastle, Australia, the average person ingests 5 grams of plastic every week.

According to the researchers, the five grams comes from swallowing about 2,000 invisible “micropparticles” weekly. That’s the equivalent of a credit card size of plastic entering the digestive tract each and every week.

Incredibly, that’s not all: A separate study published in June 2023 found people may be inhaling an additional credit card’s worth of microplastics every week.

Much of this inhaled and ingested toxic plastic is not eliminated from the body; instead, it accumulates in the gut and becomes a “forever toxin”—wreaking havoc in the gut and other organs.

These tiny particles can originate from a variety of sources. The obvious culprits are the large plastics in landfills, oceans and rivers; however, there are many other hidden sources that people don’t thinks about, such as artificial clothes fibers, and even microbeads found in some toothpastes.

Some tiny particulates may be immediately absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Other larger plastics make their way into our rivers and oceans, and can be eaten by fish and other marine animals, ending up as part of the food chain.

Now some good news: A new review from Iran has concluded probiotics may overcome the toxicity that these microplastics and nano-plastics cause in the human gut. (Nanoplastics are particles so small they cannot be seen even with a standard laboratory microscope.)

Plastic particulates accumulate in all organs of the body; however, for plastic that is ingested, the gut is the obvious first location for the particulates to wreak havoc.

The systematic review involved the analysis of dozens of earlier studies conducted in vitro and in vivo. The researchers included studies of toxic hazard effects of microplastics, nanoplastics and polystyrene.

The researchers, based at Kashan University of Medical Sciences in Kashan, Iran, used database searches of Web of Science, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, and Google Scholar from 2015 to 2023.

A summary of findings include:

• One study showed that dysbiosis in the gut was associated with worse gastrointestinal damage after oral exposure to microparticles and nanoparticles—clearly establishing the toxic effect of microscopic plastic particles. Further studies then showed that consumption of a mixture of probiotics significantly restored the gut and microbial diversity.

• Several studies showed that various probiotic strains are able to “degrade” the common plastic ingredient, bisphenol A.

• Studies on mice demonstrated that mice fed a combination of BPA and phthalates (toxins often occurring in the human daily diet) saw the toxicity “modified” with the administration of probiotics.

• Some probiotic strains were confirmed to have biosorptive or “toxin binding” abilities—a function that helps eliminate toxins from the body.

The study was published in Frontiers in Nutrition in July 2023.

Researchers worry for the future

The growth of plastics manufacturing is still rapidly increasing worldwide, and market experts predict the growth will continue for decades to come.  In 2019 plastic production was 368 million tons. If current trajectories continue, that number will climb to 33 billion tons by 2050.

Researchers warn that if new practices and procedures for reducing the toxicity of microplastics are not developed, the relatively-small amount of related health issues seen today will skyrocket to epidemic proportions.

Optimal Health Systems offers a number of probiotic products to help offset plastic toxicity in the gut and other organs. Click links below to learn more.

Optimal Flora Plus
Optimal Flora Blitz 100
21-Day Blitz Challenge Package
Exposure Protection Pack

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Sources: Frontiers in Nutrition, American Chemical Society (ACS.org), Physics of Fluids (AIP.org).