Something’s fishy – microplastics in our food and what it means for our health

  • Plastic
microplastics

Did you know that you may consume, on average, 130 particles of microplastics a day? (1) It could be that the term ‘microplastics’ itself, is completely alien to you. Let us explain to you exactly what they are, and why they are harmful to your health. At the end of this article you will know how to take control over the amount of microplastics you consume, keeping your health in check.

Microplastics and why you should know about them

It is common knowledge that plastic is everywhere. We use plastic in almost every aspect of our life – in working, washing, eating, playing – the list really goes on. Microplastics are pieces of worn-down plastic from what we have produced for these activities. Microplastics come from our bottles we drink from, the clothes we wear, and are even hidden in our shower gel. These pieces of plastic filter into our water systems and contaminate our marine environment. (2)

Why you’re consuming microplastics every single day – and you can’t avoid it

Here is the slightly scary part – it has been evidenced that these pieces of plastic can translocate to all organs, in all animals. (3) This means that the fish you fry – be it your tuna steak, the cod from the chippy, or the fancy salmon you indulged in – are all subject to consuming microplastics during their lifetimes. Of course, in one thing following from another, this also means that when you eat these fish themselves, you will be consuming microplastics.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan and reading this now, you may deservedly have a slightly smug expression on your face. Unfortunately, you’re still not spared from consuming microplastics either – in fact, the most common source of microplastic consumption is from the bottled water you drink, and possibly your unsafe Tupperware. (4) Microplastics will be lurking in your unpackaged fruit and veg too, as the same study has inferred.

So why care? Just because plastic is a synthetic product, why does this mean it is bad for you? 

Let us get down to the gritty details.

The impact of consuming microplastics on your health

Microplastics disrupt your hormones

BPA is a plastic that you may be familiar with due to its widespread media attention as a dangerous chemical. It has been shown that BPA has hormonal disrupting properties on the body, and there is even evidence to suggest that it can affect reproduction – a correlation being shown in its consumption with sperm decline. (5) BPA, however, is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of microplastics that can be hormonally disrupting, so don’t immediately presume that plastics with the ‘BPA-free’ label are safe. Phthalates are also an ‘EDC’ (an

endocrine-disrupting-chemical, i.e. one that is hormonally disrupting) that have leached disastrously from packaging into foods in the past, such as one case in Taiwan. It had been found, not only in ice cream and frozen food, (6) but also in products thought good for you – such as vitamin supplements and health foods. Such ‘EDCs’ can bind to your hormone receptors and control the influence they have in your body.

Microplastics are indirectly linked to causing cancer

According to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, one of the leading experts in environmental medicine and endocrinology, plastics can increase the risk of testicular, prostate and breast cancer. His extensive studies of the impact of EDCs on hormone receptors, elaborated on in his book ‘Sicker, Fatter, Poorer’ (2019) evidence this serious health implication. (7) 

Microplastics can increase risk of diabetes and obesity

Further recent studies have replicated the work of Trasande to show that EDCs can increase risk of hormonal cancers and have even gone on to show that they can cause metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity. (8) This is because EDCs can interfere and affect how organs can respond to signals produced by the hormones that regulate your metabolism.

How you can reduce the amount of microplastics you consume to improve your health – change your diet and lifestyle

Do not drink bottled water, drink tap water

Evidenced by a study in 2018, you could be subject to consuming twice the amount of microplastics from plastic bottles than from tap water. (9) Save the environment and your health by investing in a reusable, steel water bottle.

Store your food in glass containers e.g. jars  

If you have a hectic work life and need to meal prep daily, consider putting your meals in jars or boxes, rather than your classic plastic Tupperware. At Reset Your Health we have gut-friendly foods that are made to meal prep in glass jars, such as this delicious Coconut and Macaseed pot.

Eat unpackaged and organic fruit

Broccoli, apples and carrots are your prime culprits of containing the highest amounts of microplastics. There is an easy way to reduce your microplastic consumption – just buy organic fruit! Although it is slightly more expensive to buy fresh, organic produce, your body will be thanking you later.

Avoid eating supermarket fish, and reduce fish consumption in general

There is no doubt that consuming fish in your diet will expose you to a larger amount of microplastics. That being said, if you try to eat wild fish from waters that are relatively uncontaminated, you will be exposed to a lower dose of microplastics and can still enjoy the benefits of their flavour and healthy fats.

At Reset Your Health we produce meal plans tailored to you and your gut, made of fresh wholefoods that encourage you to reduce the number of possible contaminants in your diet. Beyond this, our meal plans aim to improve mental health and reduce your risk of diseases such as Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

If you want to get more involved, take a look at Exxpedition, a Community Interest Company that runs all-female sailing research expeditions at sea and virtual voyages on land to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution.

Sources

1.     Kieran D. Cox, Garth A. Covernton, Hailey L. Davies, John F. Dower, Francis Juanes, and Sarah E. Dudas. Environmental Science & Technology. 2019

2.     Smith M, Love D.C, Rochman C.M, Neff R. Microplastics in Seafood and the Implications for Human Health. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2018;

3.     Lusher A, Hollman P, Mendoza-Hill J. Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 2017;

4.   Transande L, Shaffer R.M, Sathyanarayana S. Food Additives and Child Health. Council on Environmental Health. 2018;

5.     A. C. Gore, V. A. Chappell, S. E. Fenton, J. A. Flaws, A. Nadal, G. S. Prins, J. Toppari, R. T. Zoeller. EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Endocrine Reviews.  2015;

6.     Wu CF, Chang-Chien GP, Su SW, Chen BH, Wu MT. Findings of 2731 suspected phthalate-tainted foodstuffs during the 2011 phthalates incident in Taiwan. J Formos Med Assoc. 2014;

7.     Trasande L. Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Future… and What We Can Do about It. 2019;

8.     Campanale C, Massarelli C, Savino I, Locaputo V, Uricchio VF. A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020

9.   Mason SA, Welch VG, Neratko J. Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water. Front Chem. 2018;