By Lara Lattman | 02/12/2020

Microplastics: The Plastics You Are Drinking Every Day

Microplastics: The Plastics You Are Drinking Every Day

By now most people are aware that the astronomical amount of plastic we use has become an environmental problem.  Single use plastic is killing animals, overflowing landfills, and has created an island in the Pacific.  But did you also know that all of these plastics you use daily are shedding micro-particles that you end up consuming? It is estimated that the average person is currently consuming a credit cards worth of plastic each week.  This comes in through water we drink and the food we eat.  According to a report issued by the World Health Organization, there are microplastics present in filtered drinking water, bottled water, ocean water, and fresh water.  The European Food Safety Authority conducted studies which found microplastics in fish, shellfish, beer, honey, and salt.  While the thought of eating all this plastic is disgusting, is it something we should be worried about?

 The official stance of the World Health Organization is that no, we have no reason to be worried.  This is because there have been no studies done on the potential effects of microplastics in the body.  So, should we take lack of evidence to mean that there is no ill effect?  I would say a very loud NO.

 We know that the chemicals in plastic lead to hormone disruption, weight gain, and altered brain function.  Bisphenol A (BPA) has been removed from many plastics due to its negative effects on brain development in fetuses, babies and children.  But BPA isn’t anywhere near the whole story of plastic.  It is just one dangerous chemical, and the replacements for it aren’t any less toxic, and could potentially be more toxic.  Plastic chemicals act like estrogens in the body, and can disrupt proper hormone functioning leading to PMS, abnormal periods, and maybe even breast cancer.   When the body is exposed to toxins that it is unable to get rid of quickly, it stores these toxins in fat cells so they cannot damage tissues.  And from there, the body isn’t going to want to get rid of that fat cell because it knows there is a toxin inside that will be dangerous if released, and that can lead to stubborn excess weight.  There is also evidence that these chemicals can bind to the proteins of the food you eat, thus making that protein look like a foreign invader that the body needs to get rid of, which can lead to food sensitivities. Ironically, these food sensitivities would have nothing to do with the food, but with the chemical bound to it. 

When plastic is heated up or exposed to acids (think tomato, lemon and vinegar) it sheds chemicals and microplastics.  Think about that the next time you are reheating your dinner in a plastic container or drinking out of a plastic water bottle.  Canned goods are also lined in plastic so that the contents don’t rust out the aluminum of the can, and you don’t really want your food in contact with the aluminum either, do you? 

 So, what can you do to limit your exposure to plastics in your food?

  • Limit your use of plastic overall.  Since we know some microplastics are originating in plastic waste that is breaking down, reducing the presence of that plastic waste will be step 1 to reducing our ingestion of microplastics.  
  • Avoid single use plastic in any form: water bottles, straws, bags (not only shopping bags, but bags that clothes are shipped in, individually wrapped foods, plastic wrapped toys, etc.), or any food sold in a plastic container.  
  • Take cloth produce bags or glass mason jars to the store with you to fill with nuts, seeds, flour, grains, beans and anything else you can find in the bulk section.  If you don’t have cloth bags, remember, fruits and vegetables do not have to be bagged at all! 
  • Never heat food up in plastic.  When plastic is heated the chemicals leach out into the food and we end up consuming them.  Always use glass or ceramic for storing and heating foods, and even metal containers if you aren’t planning on heating. 
  • Polyester and nylon fabrics are made from plastics, and when washing clothes made from these fabrics micro plastics are sloughed off into the water and eventually end up in our drinking water and the ocean.  There are two things you can do here: get a microplastics catcher for your washer (such as the Cora Ball), and buy clothes made from 100% cotton, hemp, or other eco-friendly fabrics. 

 What can you do about the plastics that may already be stored in your body?  A metabolic detox is a great way to boost liver and kidney function to eliminate toxins from the body.  You should consult your functional medicine doctor or nutritionist to learn about an effective detox program and be sure that it is right for you.  Simply consuming liquids as in a juice fast or “liver flush” is not going to be a great option, because you will be lacking fiber, a necessary component to effective detoxification.  

Because we have no studies on how microplastics affect human health, we don’t know how long it will take for these pieces to be fully eliminated.  However, in a very small study done on a family in Sweden, the removal of conventionally grown food and introduction of organic led to a full elimination of certain pesticides in 2 weeks.  While we cannot eliminate our exposure to microplastics at this time, we can greatly limit it and aid our natural detoxification system on a regular basis. 

Join Lara and Five Stones Healing Arts and Wellness Center for Detox With Your Doctor on April 1st

Lara Lattman is a Functional Nutritionist at Five Stones Healing Arts and Wellness Center.  She helps people with chronic conditions such as Lyme, Autoimmune Disease and IBS find relief through sustainable diet and lifestyle changes.

 Resources:

WHO Report: Microplastics in drinking-water. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. 

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