Microplastics. They are in the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the water that you drink. The WWF estimates that on average, people are ingesting 5 grams of microplastics every week – equivalent to the weight of a credit card! Yikes. Let’s take a quick look at what microplastics are and where we encounter them. We will also show you how, using the principles of Nature’s pHarmacy®, we can make better choices to minimize future exposure and mitigate the effects through use of nature’s ascorbate, a super multivitamin, liver support, detoxification support, and more.
What is a Microplastic?
Microplastics are defined as plastic particles smaller than 5 mm (0.2 in.). They are categorized as either primary, which are purposefully manufactured at a small scale, and secondary, which are formed through the degradation of larger plastic items.
Microplastics in the Environment (How Did They Get There?)
The first plastic polymer was created in 1869 as a substitute for ivory in the billiards industry. John Wesley Hyatt created a natural “plastic” from specially treated cotton fiber that could also mimic other natural elements such as tortoise shell, horn, and linen. In 1907, the first fully synthetic plastic, made from coal tar and formaldehyde, and named “Bakelite,” was invented for use in kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, toys, electrical insulators, and more.
After WWII, plastics began to be mass-produced. In the 1940s, plastic films were used to cover crops to produce higher yields. In the 1960s and 1970s, consumers flocked to plastic versions of furniture, cars, and packaging. Global synthetic plastic production surged 190-fold from 1950 to 2015, with hundreds of millions of metric tons being produced.
The problem is… plastic is not a natural substance and is not biodegraded by microorganisms. So once it’s introduced to the environment, it stays there forever. Approximately two thirds of all plastic ever created has been released into the environment, where it lives on either as ocean debris, or as micro- and nano-particles in the soil, water, air, plants, animals, and humans. Ironically, although plastics were first produced with good intention, to replace natural products and protect the environment, unfortunately they have become the main pollutant on our planet.
How Do Microplastics Enter Our Bodies?
Because they are ubiquitous, everyone is exposed to some microplastics in their daily life. In the air – they hitchhike on dust particles that we inhale. If you use a plastic essential oil diffuser, oils are known to break down plastics, and can be released into the air when you diffuse. Plastic drink containers for water and soft drinks can leach microplastics into the liquids they contain. Nearly all packaged foods contain plastic either directly or as a component of the lining. While you may be aware that BPA was phased out of can linings, did you know it was replaced with yet another plastic compound that may be just as bad? And you may not know that the bags that chips and crispy snacks come in (even the organic dried and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables) are lined with three layers of plastic polymers, some mixed with aluminum for that shiny look. It’s not just the packaging, however. With microplastics in our soil, they get into plants, and animal feed, and animals, and eventually our bodies. In 2022, a study found that 80% of people tested had microplastics in their blood.
In addition to what we eat and drink, microplastics can be found in personal care items such as toothpaste, facial scrubs, body wash, shampoo, mascara, lipstick, foundation, face powder, moisturizers, hair spray and more!
How Do Microplastics Affect Our Bodies?
Microplastics can affect a variety of systems in the body including “digestive, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive and immune systems.”
In the digestive system, microplastics can cause direct physical irritation and oxidative stress, leading to tissue damage and inflammation and a variety of GI symptoms. They can also affect the gut microbiome, leading to an unhealthy balance of harmful vs helpful bacteria, and resulting in abdominal symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, pain, and bloating. In addition, microplastics can absorb and accumulate harmful chemicals from the environment. These chemicals, which include persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides, can adhere to the surface of microplastics and enter the body upon ingestion. Once inside the body, these chemicals can disrupt cellular function and contribute to various health issues, including cancer, reproductive disorders, immune system dysfunction, and gastrointestinal symptoms including pain, nausea and vomiting.
In the respiratory system, microplastic-induced oxidative stress and inflammation can lead to symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath, and symptoms resulting from low blood oxygen concentrations, such as dizziness and fatigue. Microplastics can also cause mitochondrial damage in both liver and lung cells.
There is evidence to suggest that microplastics may disrupt hormone regulation (affecting their “production, release, transport, metabolism, and elimination”) and have adverse effects on the endocrine system. This disruption can interfere with processes such as growth, metabolism, and reproductive health.
The small size of microplastics allows them to penetrate deep into tissues and organs, raising concerns about their potential to cause long-term health problems. Research has shown that microplastics can accumulate in various organs, including the liver, kidneys, and lungs, where they may persist for extended periods. This accumulation can lead to chronic inflammation, tissue damage, and organ dysfunction, with potential implications for overall health and well-being.
How Do We Avoid Microplastics?
While it may not be possible to completely avoid microplastics in our environment, there are things we can do to minimize future exposure and improve our health.
Indoor air typically has higher concentrations of microplastics than outdoor air due to shedding from synthetic carpet, furniture, and clothing. Consider using one or more HEPA filters in your home. Certified HEPA filters remove microplastics and other particles larger than 0.3 microns in size, and some even smaller. If diffusing essential oils, choose a glass diffuser rather than plastic.
Choose natural fabrics rather than synthetics, wherever possible. Wash synthetic clothing on the gentle cycle; this helps reduce shedding of microplastic fibers. Choose products with less (or no) plastic packaging.
Single use plastic water bottles are a large contributor to microplastic ingestion, as are plastic straws. Choose glass instead; we prefer Gerolstiner (still) and San Pelligrino or Mountain Valley (sparkling). You can go a step further and filter or distill your water before drinking.
Very often aperitifs and adult beverages can provide unnecessary microplastics and toxins. When starting a meal, an organic aperitif like Campari made from fermented roots and herbs could be helpful. It enhances lymphatic flow to the liver and improves detoxification when mixed with mineral water as listed above (always in glass).
Minimize plastic packaging wherever possible and shop sustainably. Buy organic produce from Farmer’s Markets and bring your own bags. Bring your own containers to the grocery store so you can buy from the bulk bins without using a plastic bag. Buy whole foods, choosing plastic wrap-free versions whenever possible.
In the kitchen, use wooden or tempered glass cutting boards. A study found that as many as 1,114 microplastic particles were released each time a polypropylene or polystyrene board was used to cut carrots(!) Similarly, avoid plastic utensils for cooking or preparing food.
Personal Care Products
In the late 1990s “microbeads” were added to many soaps and scrubs for their physical exfoliating action. In December 2015, microbeads were banned in the US for use in “wash-off cosmetics” since they were an environmental threat, ending up in lakes and oceans where they were mistaken for food by fish. They are technically not banned in “leave on” cosmetics such as mascara and lipstick. And there are microplastics that fall outside the realm of microbeads.
As recently as 2021, an Italian study verified the presence of microplastics in top brands such as Lancôme, Maybelline, and Sephora. The product categories with the most frequent presence of microplastics included mascara (90%), lipsticks and glosses (85%), foundations (74%), highlighters (69%0 and face powders (43%).
Thankfully, there are companies that make environmental sustainability a priority. A variety of natural cosmetic brands have pledged to avoid microplastics, and they may be a good place to start. There are also phone apps, such as “Beat the Micro Bead,” that you can use to scan barcodes on products to determine whether the company is using microplastics or not. Other companies have committed to “Zero Plastics Inside” and are certified by Beat the Micro Bead as entirely plastic-free.
Soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, deodorants, and other personal care products can also contain microplastics. Read labels carefully. These are the chemicals to be on the lookout for, as an indicator that plastic is an ingredient in your cosmetic or personal car product:
- Acrylate copolymer (AC)
- Acrylate Crosspolymer (ACS)
- Polyamides (PA, Nylon)
- Polyacrylates (PA)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
- Polyquaternium (PQ)
- Polyethylene (PE)
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
- Polyethyleneterephthalate (PET)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polypropylene glycol (PPG)
- Polystyrenes (PS)
- Polyurethanes (PUR)
How Do We Recover?
The first step to healing from microplastic exposure is to limit future exposure, by taking all of the steps outlined above. That will help our body to begin to heal naturally. The next step would be to minimize the pro-oxidant effects of microplastics on our body, by ensuring we take in enough antioxidants to combat the oxidative stress they are causing. Consider supplementing with both water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidants, including nature’s ascorbate (fully bioavailable l-ascorbate powder), and a super multivitamin containing vitamins A and E, among others. Boost your Omega-3 (EPA/DHA) consumption through food and/or supplementation to further reduce inflammation and promote cell membrane health. Consider additional detoxification supplements for the liver and entire body to help remove toxins.
Boost intake of these foods to help your body detoxify naturally:
- Leafy greens contain chlorophyll which can help reduce oxidative stress.
- GGOBE (garlic, ginger, onions, brassica sprots, and eggs) contain sulforaphane, a powerful phytochemical antioxidant that promotes liver and whole-body detoxification.
- Citrus fruits provide antioxidant vitamin C.
- Berries provide vitamins and natural antioxidant compounds.
- Green tea (choose organic loose tea as some teabags contain microplastics) contains polyphenols that have antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties.
- Fiber from vegetables, nuts, and seeds like chia and flax help support digestion and helpful bacteria in the gut.
- Healthy hydration will help your body to flush out toxins.
Although microplastics are prevalent in our environment, taking the above steps to keep the bad stuff out and get the good stuff in using the principles of Nature’s pHarmacy, can help you minimize their impact on your health.