A new review has looked at evidence surrounding consumption of micro- and nano-plastics (MNPs) and their effect on human health, and the human gut microbiome.

It is believed that, on average, we digest approximately 5g of MNPs per week – equivalent to a credit card. The majority of MNPs are consumed through seafood, sea salt and drinking water, both tap water and mineral water sold in plastic bottles. However some evidence indicates that MNPs may also transfer to foods through packaging, as well as airborne particles that are inhaled.

Once they enter the digestive tract, MNPs have been shown to interact with the gut microbiome. In animal studies, MNPs were shown to decrease the diversity of commensal bacteria as well as increasing intestinal permeability and causing changes to amino acid and bile acid metabolism, and hepatic lipid metabolism. While further research is needed, particularly in humans, the review’s authors speculate that the presence of MNPs within the human digestive tract may directly impact the growth of commensal bacteria and metabolism.

A further consideration is the extent to which MNPs are able to cross the epithelial lining of the gut, potentially triggering inflammation and immune responses. The authors suggest that further research is needed, particularly into the potential role of MNPs in carcinogenesis.

Gruber, E.S. et al. (2022) To waste or not to waste: questioning potential health risks of micro- and nanoplastics with a focus on their ingestion and potential carcinogenicity. Expo Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12403-022-00470-8

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