As per an article published in The Guardian, researchers at the University of Vienna have made a disturbing discovery – particles of plastic have been found in mice’s brains just two hours after the mice ingested drinking water containing plastic. This finding is especially concerning because the plastic particles could increase the risk of inflammation, neurological disorders, or even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
The study’s chief scientist, Lukas Kenner, stated in a statement that further research is needed to prove a causal link between plastics and these neurological diseases. Cognitive impairment, neurotoxicity, and altered neurotransmitter levels are just a few of the short-term health impacts that the researchers believe microplastic contamination in human brains may cause, all of which can contribute to behavioral disorders.
To test their notion, the researchers gave mice drinking water laced with microscopic bits of polystyrene, a type of plastic commonly used in food packaging such as yogurt cups and Styrofoam takeout containers. Nano plastic particles, which are tiny than 0.001 millimeters and thus invisible to the naked eye, were discovered to reach the brains of mice via a previously unmodeled “transport mechanism” in biology.
These microplastics are absorbed by the cholesterol molecules that coat the surface of the brain’s membrane. They are able to do so by passing through the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels and tissue whose primary function is to prevent hazardous chemicals and other substances from entering the brain.
This study focused on the effects of plastics consumed in drinking water, but humans ingest plastic in other ways as well. A 2022 study in China focused on the effects of plastics inhaled through the nose, concluding that “an obvious neurotoxicity of the nanoplastics could be observed.” Simply put, breathing plastics reduces the function of specific brain enzymes that are also lacking in the brains of persons with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nanoplastics have the potential to damage the gastrointestinal barrier, causing inflammation, immunological responses, and cell death in the gut. Plastics have been discovered in human blood, organs, placentas, breast milk, and digestive systems. Many of the chemicals found in various types of plastic are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors and have been linked to negative health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments in fetuses and children, though we still don’t fully understand how plastics affect different parts of the human body.
According to new research published this spring by the Boston College Global Observatory on Planetary Health, current patterns of plastic manufacturing, usage, and disposal are unsustainable and are to blame for many environmental problems. Since 75% of the world’s population favors banning plastic, raising awareness about the risks of plastic on human health is critical. Positively, more than a hundred countries have either a complete or partial ban on single-use plastic bags, and policymakers in certain countries are beginning to see plastics in terms of the costs connected with their detrimental environmental and human health effects.
Plastics will be formally recognized as dangerous by the Canadian government under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in 2021. As a result, the government will have greater control over the manufacture and distribution of plastics, lowering the risk of hazardous exposures. Plastics makers have teamed together to resist the proposed laws, led by Imperial Oil but included Dow Chemical and Nova Chemicals. When it comes to public health, it’s clear that more countries should classify plastics as dangerous and impose stricter rules on them.