Microplastics are all too common in the human gut, if a recent pilot study reflects the bigger picture.
In a presentation to be given at the United European Gastroenterology Week in Vienna, Austrian researchers will reveal how they found them in every stool sample tested from participants in eight countries, with nine different types of plastic identified.
The scientists, led by Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna, found that polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were the most common. On average, 20 microplastic particles were found for each 10 grams of faeces.
All volunteers – from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria – consumed plastic-wrapped food or drank from plastic bottles in the week prior to testing. None was a vegetarian and six ate sea fish.
Microplastics are particles of less than five millimetres long that are either manufactured for specific purposes or created unintentionally when larger pieces break down through weathering, degradation or wear and tear.
“While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver,” says Schwabl.
“Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”
Nick Carne is editor of Cosmos digital and editorial manager for The Royal Institution of Australia.
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