The Dangers of Microplastics and How to Avoid Them

You might have heard about the massive amounts of microplastics in our oceans. While this ecological threat may seem far away, the impact of microplastics is closer than you may think. This article discusses what microplastics are, where they’re found, and what you can do to protect yourself from their toxic effects.

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic no more than 5 mm in size. Some are the microfibers in clothes or microbeads in personal care products. Many microplastics come from larger decomposed plastic items or are the byproducts of plastic manufacturing or improper disposal of synthetic products like bottles, jugs, or plastic bags.

Microplastics find their way to bodies of water, the soil, and even the air you breathe. They are a growing environmental concern because they harm plants and animals in ecosystems where they accumulate.

How Much Can Microplastics Harm Humans?

Microplastics don’t just harm ecosystems. These tiny particles can also enter our food chain and drinking water, exposing us to various health risks. Exposure to worn tires, city dust, paint fragments, cleaning products, decomposing packaging, textiles, and other synthetic products puts us closer to microplastics, which enter our bodies and make us sick.

We can inhale microplastics by simply breathing the air around us. We can also orally ingest them via drinking, eating, food containers, and even nipples on baby bottles. Microplastics can also make skin contact through mobile phone cases and personal care products.

Research shows that, once in our systems, microplastics can have several harmful effects:

  • Altered metabolism
  • Some forms of cancer
  • Cell damage causing allergic reactions or death
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Limited ability of cells to detoxify
  • Reproductive and developmental toxicity
  • Respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Protecting Yourself from the Harms of Microplastics

There are things we all can do to limit our exposure to microplastics:

Avoid Single-Use Plastics

The more plastic containers you buy, use, and throw away, the more secondary microplastics break down and enter the environment. Carry your groceries in fabric or canvas bags when grocery shopping, opt for paper instead of plastic, hydrate with refillable water bottles, and patronize zero-waste or sustainable grocers.

Wear Organic Clothing and Materials

Polyester and other synthetic textiles are significant sources of microplastics. Consider more sustainable clothing options like silk, wool, cotton, hemp, and other organic or natural fibers.

Alter Your Laundry Routine

Microplastics from synthetic materials can come loose after multiple cycles in the washer and dryer. You can reduce the microplastics your washing and dryer release by using less water, installing a quality filter, and line-drying your wet clothes more often.

Use Plastic-Free Cosmetics and Skin Care

Many cosmetics and personal care products contain microbeads that you can ingest. Reduce your exposure by buying products that don’t have these ingredients:

  • Nylon
  • Polyethylene, listed as PE
  • Polypropylene or PP
  • Polyethylene terephthalate, a form of polyester (PET or PETE)
  • Polymethyl methacrylates or PMMA

Take Public or Alternatives Transportation Modes

Did you know that dust and fibers from car tires comprise most of the microplastics found in the oceans? We’re not suggesting you give up your car. Instead, take more opportunities to hop on the bus or ride your bike. Doing so would decrease the number of tires on the road at any given time and reduce the amount of plastic pollution.

Adopt a More Holistic Diet

It’s relatively simple to make a few dietary changes, such as reducing your consumption of shellfish, such as mollusks, shrimp, oysters, and crab. Many of these fish ingest the microplastics that accumulate in oceans and other large water bodies.

Maintaining a diet primarily of real foods can also reduce the microplastics in your system. Prioritize buying fresh produce and locally sourced foods that don’t come with plastic wrapping or excessive packaging.

You can also download a copy of Dr. Blatman’s “Do Not Eat” list, which provides extra guidance on making cleaner dietary choices. If you need more hands-on nutrition counseling close to home, contact Blatman Health and Wellness Center to schedule an appointment and speak to one of our integrative health providers.

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