In recent years, plastic pollution has received a lot of attention due to its detrimental effects on the environment and marine life. However, a new study by scientists at the University of Rhode Island has shed light on another aspect of plastic pollution – its potential impact on human health.
Microplastics – tiny particles of plastic measuring less than 5 millimeters – have become widespread in the environment. They can be found in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and even in the food we consume. Despite their widespread use, there has not yet been enough research into the health effects of microplastics on humans, especially mammals.
Professor Jaime Ross and her collaborators set out to address this knowledge gap by studying the neurobehavioral effects and inflammatory response to microplastic exposure, as well as the accumulation of microplastics in tissues, including the brain. The study was conducted on both young and old mice to understand how age may influence the effects of microplastic exposure.
The results of the study were alarming. The researchers found that exposure to microplastics caused behavioral changes in the mice, especially in older individuals. These changes resembled symptoms similar to dementia in humans. In addition, changes in immune markers were observed in liver and brain tissue, indicating an inflammatory response to microplastic exposure.
“This was striking to us. These were not large doses of microplastic, but in just a short period of time we saw such changes,” said Prof. Ross. The findings raise important questions about the long-term effects of microplastic exposure and whether aging people may be more susceptible to its deleterious effects.
To better understand how microplastics enter the body and contribute to these behavioral changes, the researchers studied a variety of organs, including the brain, liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, heart, spleen and lungs. They found that microplastics bioaccumulated in all organs, including the brain. This suggests that microplastics are capable of causing widespread damage in the body.
The implications of this study are profound. Microplastics have become a silent threat to human health that can lead to the development of serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. The need for further research in this area is evident as our understanding of the biological and cognitive effects of microplastic exposure is still limited.
Dr. Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, citing scientists on the topic, stresses the urgency of addressing this issue, “Microplastics are everywhere, and we need to start thinking about them as a pollutant that not only affects wildlife, but could potentially affect us.”
Experts in the field emphasize the importance of reducing plastic waste and finding sustainable alternatives. Dr. Stephanie Wright, a marine ecologist at King’s College London, says, “We must take action to reduce our dependence on plastic and prevent it from entering the environment. This study highlights the urgent need for further research into the potential health effects of microplastics.”
As we continue to struggle with the effects of plastic pollution, it is clear that microplastics pose a serious threat to both the environment and our health. Urgent action is needed to address this issue and protect future generations from the harmful effects of plastic pollution.