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Jun 05, 2024

Microplastics are a seemingly unsolvable crisis. Recently, microplastics have even been found in human hearts and blood. So, how are you being exposed to microplastics? What effect do they have on your health, and can you even do anything to protect yourself?

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are plastic pieces less than five millimetres in diameter. These tiny terrors are everywhere in our environment and brake off from larger plastic pieces, synthetic clothing fibres, food packaging, and more. Recent studies have also found that as much as 78% of microplastics in the ocean come from tyre dust, the little pieces of rubber that break off from car tyres as we drive.

Over time, microplastics accumulate in our oceans, rivers, soil, and air. We eat, drink, and breathe them in. They negatively affect our health and are even a possible reason for the decline in fertility rates around the world.

How are microplastics getting into our bodies?

There are many ways microplastics can get into our bodies. The most common way is via ingestion. Studies have shown that microplastics are found in a lot of different food items, including seafood, salt, and even drinking water, especially bottled water.

Because of the large amount of microplastics in the ocean, fish and other marine animals easily ingest it. When people eat the fish, the microplastics stay behind, travelling through the gut and to the rest of the body.

Microplastics are also present in the air, especially in urban environments where plastic waste is abundant. So, apart from eating and drinking them, we also breathe them in. Studies have found microplastics in lungs and hearts during surgery, indicative of just how widespread and serious the problem is.

How microplastics are attacking your body

Because this is such a new problem, research and studies into the effects of microplastics on the human body are still in their infancy. However, the initial results show that we need to take serious and urgent steps to solve the problem.

Reproductive health: A 2024 study into microplastics and reproductive health published in Toxicological Sciences found microplastics in each of the 23 human testicles and 47 dog testicle samples tested. The dog testes with higher concentrations of some microplastics also had lower sperm counts.

Physical damage: Microplastics can cause physical harm to your tissue and organs. When ingested or inhaled, these particles can accumulate and cause inflammation and physical damage. They can also cause an immune system response, leading to chronic inflammation.

Chemical leaching: Microplastics can also leach harmful chemicals into your body. This can disrupt your endocrine function and cause hormonal imbalances. If the microplastics absorbed any toxic chemicals from the environment they were in, these too can leach into your body.

Minimising your exposure

When facing any problem, it’s important to face the facts. You can’t avoid microplastics completely, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up and resign yourself to the problem. Here’s how to minimise your microplastic exposure.

Reduce: Avoid single-use plastics whenever possible. Say no to straws when you get takeaways and avoid drinks in plastic bottles.

Reuse: Opt for reusable bags, bottles, and containers made from inert materials like glass and stainless steel.

Recycle: If you have plastic that you need to dispose of, ensure that you recycle each product. Also, cut up any small plastic rings as wildlife can get stuck on them.

Filter your home water: A high-quality water filter can be expensive, but it’s an investment in your family’s health. These filters can reduce the amount of microplastics in your drinking water.

Go natural: Opt for natural fibres like cotton, wool, and linen instead of synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon when shopping for clothes. When you wash your synthetic fabrics, they release synthetic microfibers into the water system, contributing to microplastic pollution.

The seafood dilemma: Wild and farmed seafood both contain microplastics. So, there’s no true, single solution to this problem. You could consider reducing your seafood intake.

While the full extent of the effects of microplastics on human health is still being studied, the results will only go one way. Microplastics are clogging up the ocean, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the organs in our bodies. Real change only happens when we all make the changes necessary. Vote with your wallet, and only buy sustainable products and foods. It’s the first, tiny step we all need to take.



What are microplastics? National Ocean Service. Accessed 2024. Available here.

Microplastics Have Now Been Found in Testicles. How Bad Is That? Scientific American. Available here.

Microplastic presence in dog and human testis and its potential association with sperm count and weights of testis and epididymis. Toxicological Sciences. Oxford Academic. Available here.

Can microplastics in blood vessels raise the risk of heart attack and stroke? British Heart Foundation. 2024. Available here

Rising microplastics in seas puts pressure on tyre industry. Reuters. 2023. Available here.

Leaching of microplastic-associated additives in aquatic environments: A critical review. ScienceDirect. Accessed 2024. Available here.

Understanding Microplastic Leaching. LCGC International. 2020. Available here.

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