Using innovative testing techniques, researchers from China, France, Italy, several U.S. major universities, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have revealed the effects of microplastics on our gut health. And they’re sobering. For example, plastics increased fat digestion by 33% and fat absorption by an astonishing 145%.
Microplastics are smaller than five millimeters, about the size of a sesame seed. Researchers have found these persistent polymers virtually everywhere they’ve looked: rice, sugar, seafood, vegetables, drinking water, rain, air. Polyester clothes and rugs shed minute plastic fibers. Opening a bottle of soda can release a spray containing thousands of plastic particles. They are in all of us already.
The gut microbiome is its own ecosystem, comprised of trillions of bacteria and microbes. This internal system is what helps us digest food and fight infections. It plays a major role in our well being, from weight loss and immune function to heart and brain health. Microplastics appear to shift the gut microbiome into an unhealthy state. The risks come not just from the plastic itself, but also from the synthetic chemicals and heavy metals that plastics can contain.
Microplastics can make us fatter by altering the immune system, changing organ function, and disrupting hormones. The researchers explained that both plastics and intestinal membranes are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water. So plastics and gut walls stick together when paired up, trapping fat molecules in between them, and increasing both the time and surface area for the fat to be absorbed.
A 2021 study found a correlation between the severity of a patient’s inflammatory bowel disease and the number of microplastics in their feces. Another study (2023) utilized 3D intestinal cell cultures called organoids, and found that plastic exposure prompted cells to secrete inflammatory molecules.
The doctor wants everyone to enjoy good health, so please spread the word about what we can do starting today: Gradually replace plastic food containers with glass or stainless steel. Steer clear of food packaged in plastic as much as you can. When that’s not doable, transfer food items to a glass or stainless steel container as soon as possible. Use a non-plastic, refillable drinking bottle instead of drinking water that’s been sitting in plastic. Purchase clothes, sheets, blankets, etc., made from cotton instead of from polyester or other synthetics. We can’t escape all plastic, of course. But what we can avoid, we should. This is especially true when it comes to children. A child’s smaller body means the effects of microplastics are intensified.
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