Diet

What Do We Know About Food Containing Microplastics?

The maturity of plastic manufactured worldwide is employed in food and libation packaging. However, when plastic is used, it wears down and disintegrates into tiny pieces known as microplastics. In this Honest Nutrition Feature, we go through the possible risks posed by microplastics, how they contaminate food, and how to lessen exposure.

In 2016, 322 million metric tonnes of plastics were manufactured worldwide, 60% of which were used to package food for the food and beverage sector. Numerous compounds, such as stabilizers, lubricants, fillers, and plasticizers, are included in these plastics.

The plastic can fragment into tiny pieces known as microplastics that can enter food when exposed to certain environmental factors, such as heat.

Common plastic food packaging that contains microplastics includes single-use water bottles, to-go containers, food cans, and storage wraps.

The quantity of microplastics and associated hazardous compounds that migrate into food is influenced by several factors, including heating food while it is in plastic packaging, prolonged storage, and the kind of plastic packaging one employs.
 

Commonly Found In Food Microplastics

Microplastic chemicals are a combination of those that are purposefully added by manufacturers, such as fillers and stabilizers, and those that build up as byproducts, including residues and impurities.
 
Microplastics are frequently found in food, including:
  • Manufacturers create polyvinyl chloride, the “parent” plastic of many items, using the plasticizer bisphenol A (BPA).
  • Dioxin is a result of paper bleaching and herbicides, both of which pollute the environment.
  • Phthalates: Found in several forms of food packaging, these chemicals increase the flexibility, transparency, and durability of plastics.
  • The most prevalent polymers found in food and the environment are polyethylene and polypropylene, which make packaging lightweight and strong.
BPA and BPF, as well as mono-(3-carboxy propyl), mono-(carboxy isononyl), and mono-(carboxy is octyl), are microplastics that are occasionally discovered in food.
 

The Risks Posed By Microplastics

To give plastics their desired qualities, such as transparency, flexibility, and durability, producers utilize stabilizers, lubricants, fillers, plasticizers, and other chemicals, which result in microplastics. However, several of these substances have been labeled as hazardous to human health by scientists. We go into more depth on a few of the risks associated with microplastics below.
 

Changing Hormones

At least 15 of the chemicals used by manufacturers to create plastic packaging are deemed to be endocrine disruptors by scientists. Endocrine disruptors imitate and interfere with several hormones in the body, including estrogen, testosterone, and insulin. This causes negative health consequences and raises the chance of developing chronic diseases.
 
For instance, studies have demonstrated that BPA exposure contributes to both male and female infertility as well as the onset of polycystic ovary syndrome. Estrogen and testosterone are less accessible for reproductive health due to BPA’s competition with them for their receptors.
 

Chronic Illness Risk Is Rising

The risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease is increased by prolonged exposure to endocrine-disrupting microplastics, according to research Higher blood levels of dioxins, phthalates, and BPs have been linked by experts to pre-disease inflammation, impaired fasting glucose, insulin resistance, and obesity, which dramatically increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. In some analyses, ingesting these microplastics increases a person’s chance of developing chronic diseases to the same extent as eating an imbalanced diet.
 

Lowering Immunological Function

A 2020 assessment discovered that poor gut health and, consequently, decreased immunity are caused by the increased inflammation brought on by exposure to microplastics. Seventy to eighty percent of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut, which plays a significant role in immunity. This implies that any issue affecting gut health also impacts immunological health.
 
In addition to disrupting the gut microbiota and creating dysbiosis, chronic exposure to microplastics in the gut is toxic to immune cells and promotes the expansion of “bad” bacteria. Dysbiosis has been linked in research to the emergence of diseases like Parkinson’s. Furthermore, the surface of microplastics could contain dangerous microorganisms that worsen immune system health.
 

What Level Of Exposure Do We Have?

Scientists attribute the abundance of microplastics in the environment to the vast worldwide manufacturing of plastics and widespread contamination. According to research, the typical American may ingest more than 50,000 microplastic particles annually only from meals. When taking into account the absorption of microplastics from non-food sources, this number rises to an estimated 120,000 and 90,000 in individuals who routinely drink plastic-based bottled water.
 
An average of 20 microplastics were found by the authors of a 2019 research in 10 grams of stool samples from eight subjects. These results imply that the number of microplastics that humans are exposed to and ingest is substantially more than previously thought by experts.
 

Ways To Reduce Exposure

You can strive to minimize the number of microplastics you come into touch with and eat, even if it might not be feasible to eliminate your exposure to them. Here are a few pieces of advice:
 

1. Eat Less Highly Processed Meals

According to research, eating a lot of highly processed foods, such as hamburgers, ready-to-eat convenience foods, French fries, ice cream, drinks, and canned goods, causes the body to produce more phthalate microplastics. Children are more affected by this impact.
 
Experts also hypothesize that the development of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, may be brought on by the low nutritional content of highly processed meals mixed with the negative impacts of the microplastics found in those foods.
 
The answer: Increase your consumption of whole foods and minimally processed foods while reducing or avoiding highly processed items from your diet. This will aid in reducing the body’s exposure to endocrine-disrupting microplastics.
 

2. Elect For Green Packaging

Utilizing eco-friendly packaging lowers the exposure to microplastics and their migration into the food supply. The remedy: Make the following choice:
 
  • Water bottles, portable bowls, and glass storage containers
  • Bento boxes made of stainless steel and reusable water bottles
  • Lunchboxes, bowls, cutlery, and pantry storage jars made of bamboo
  • Dishes and storage units made of rice husk
 

3. Use a Pristine Sword Or Glass Water Bottle

Individuals who only drink from plastic water bottles are roughly two to three times more likely to be exposed to microplastics than those who utilize other water containers. The migration of microplastics from packaging into food and water may be accelerated by heat and prolonged storage durations, which may be typical of bottled water. The remedy: To lessen exposure to microplastics, switch to glass or stainless steel water bottles from single-use or BPA-containing options.
 

Conclusion

The fragments of stabilizers, lubricants, fillers, plasticizers, and other chemicals that are used by manufacturers to give plastics their desired qualities, such as transparency, toughness, and flexibility, are known as microplastics. Ingestion of microplastics results in increased inflammation, impaired fasting glucose, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, among other health problems.
 
Microplastic exposure from food is substantial, but you may reduce it by consuming less highly processed foods, adopting eco-friendly food packaging, and switching to glass or stainless steel water bottles in place of plastic ones.

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