Plastic Contamination in Foods and Drinks
Plastics have revolutionized the way we live, making our lives more convenient and efficient. But unfortunately, these plastics that we rely on aren’t harmless. These plastics can actually seep into the very stuff we eat, posing severe health risks. And it’s getting harder and harder to find foods untouched by plastic contamination, with plastic packaging being used everywhere! This article will answer the following questions about plastic in our food.
How do these small pieces of plastic get into our food? What are the dangers of these plastics, and how can we avoid them?
How Much Plastic is in our Food?
Microplastics, small pieces of plastic that are less than 5mm in size, have become common nearly everywhere you go. Unfortunately, they have found their way into our food as well. Some studies have shown that the average person eats around 5 grams of microplastics per week, which is about the weight of a credit card! But from where does this plastic get into our bodies?
One study conducted on 15 different brands of sea salt made a startling discovery. They found around 270 microplastic particles per pound (close to 600 particles per kilogram) of salt. Therefore, it would be best to switch to Himalayan salt instead of other types of salt.
Apart from salt, other common foods have also been found to contain microplastics. Beer, a beverage enjoyed by millions worldwide, contains up to about 109 microplastic fragments per liter.
Nevertheless, seafood takes the lead as the most significant source of microplastics in our diet. Given the abundance of microplastics in seawater, marine organisms, and especially anchovies, who consume these tiny particles regularly. Anchovies ingest plastic in natural conditions, though the mechanism they use to misidentify plastic as prey is unknown.
What is even more alarming is that microplastics have infiltrated even the most remote species in the depths of our oceans. Recent research has found microplastics present in deep-sea organisms, indicating that no ecosystem is exempt from plastic pollutionhjn.
Among the seafood choices, mussels and oysters appear to be at a significantly higher risk of microplastic contamination. Studies have revealed that mussels and oysters, which are harvested for human consumption, contained 0.36–0.47 particles of microplastic per gram. This means that individuals who consume shellfish could potentially ingest up to a staggering 11,000 particles of microplastic per year.
The Dangerous Effects of Microplastics in Our Food
As the prevalence of microplastics in our environment continues to rise, so do the concerns about their potential impact on human health. These tiny fragments, which result from the breakdown of larger plastic products, contain a cocktail of chemicals used to enhance plastic properties, such as transparency, flexibility, and durability. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals have been classified as toxic and harmful to human health.
Disrupting Hormones: A Threat to Reproductive Health
Around 15 of the chemicals used in plastic packaging have been identified as endocrine disruptors. These disruptors mimic and interfere with the natural functions of hormones in the body, including oestrogen, testosterone, and insulin, leading to adverse health effects and an increased risk of chronic conditions.
Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are chemicals commonly found in plastic products. Multiple studies have linked BPA and phthalates exposure to infertility in both males and females and the development of polycystic ovary syndrome. These chemicals compete with estrogen and testosterone for their receptors, which can disrupt reproductive health by reducing the availability of these crucial hormones.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington investigated the impact of a commonly used phthalate called DCHP on PXR activation and cholesterol levels. DCHP OR Ortho-phthalates (phthalates) are a class of chemicals commonly found in many types of food mainly through packaging and food handling equipment, like cellophane, paper and paperboard, and plastic in contact with food, leading to increased cholesterol in all the experiments, indicating a potent effect of this plasticizer on cholesterol regulation.
Furthermore, exposure to DCHP was also associated with elevated levels of ceramides, waxy substances linked to cardiovascular diseases, further highlighting the potential risks of plastic contamination in our food and drinks.
It is crucial to acknowledge that elevated cholesterol levels alone do not cause cardiovascular issues; rather, they can serve as a sign of underlying problems in the body. By only focusing on reducing cholesterol levels without addressing the root causes, we risk overlooking potential health risks and neglecting necessary treatments.
Increasing Risk of Chronic Diseases: Diabetes and Heart Disease
Long-term exposure to endocrine-disrupting microplastics has been associated with an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Dioxins, phthalates, and BPs found in microplastics are linked to pre-disease states of inflammation, impaired fasting glucose, insulin resistance, and obesity, all of which significantly elevate the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
Some studies even suggest that the harm caused by exposure to microplastics in food is comparable to the adverse effects of following an unbalanced diet.
Weakening Your Immune System
A recent study has revealed that exposure to microplastics triggers increased inflammation, leading to poor gut health and, in turn, weakened immunity. The gut plays a crucial role in immunity, housing a significant portion of the body’s immune cells. Thus, any disruption to gut health can have adverse effects on overall immune health.
Microplastics in the gut can be toxic to immune cells and cause dysbiosis, a condition where the gut microbiome is unbalanced. This dysbiosis can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, contributing to the development of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
How Can You Avoid Microplastics?
The plastic chemicals found in plastic particles can elevate our cholesterol levels, lead to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, disrupt hormones and weaken our immune system. These findings provide strong evidence that plastic contamination in our foods and drinks could indeed have adverse effects on our health.
So how can we stay away from these small pieces of plastic? Well, here are three practical steps we can take to reduce our exposure to microplastics and make choices that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.
- Choose Whole Foods and Minimally Processed Options.
Highly processed foods, like ready-to-eat meals, sodas, and canned foods, usually contain more phthalate microplastics than usual. To minimize potential risks, consider shifting towards a diet focused around whole foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Consumption of Indole-3-Carbinol (also known as DIM). This is a naturally occurring compound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower encourages the decrease of high estrogen levels.
- Eco-Friendly Packaging: A Safer Choice
The choice of food packaging significantly impacts the potential migration of microplastics into the food we consume. Opting for eco-friendly packaging alternatives can help minimize exposure to harmful particles. Consider using glass storage containers, stainless steel bento boxes, bamboo lunch boxes, and rice husk storage containers.
- Avoid Using Plastic Bottles
Plastic water bottles can increase microplastic migration, especially when exposed to heat or prolonged storage. Reduce your exposure by switching to glass or stainless-steel water bottles, ensuring that your hydration is both safe and sustainable.
Protecting yourself from plastics is just one step towards good health.
To fully reclaim your health and defeat or prevent cancer or any other illness,
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