6 ways nanoplastics affect our health from heart issues to cognitive decline | Health - Hindustan Times

6 ways nanoplastics affect our health from heart issues to cognitive decline

By, New Delhi
Jan 17, 2024 01:29 PM IST

Nanoplastics alter gut microbiota, may cause liver and heart inflammation, and even lead to neurotoxicity. Here are 6 ways the tiny invaders affect us.

Incredibly tiny, nanoplastics the invisible invaders, that make their way into our body through food or by way of inhalation, are believed to be posing a grave threat to our health. A recent research shed light on how a 1 litre bottle of water contains more than 2 lakhs of nanoplastic fragments that can enter the bloodstream, cause change in gut microbiota, inflammation and even cognitive decline. The researchers from Columbia University used a new microscopic technique to detect these particles measuring 1 micrometre in length, 70 times smaller than the size of a hair strand, and the findings only prove how grossly we have underestimated the presence of these tiny villains in our food, cosmetics, clothing, environment et al. (Also read | One bottle of water contains 240,000 plastic fragments: New study)

One microplastic particle can break down into billions of nanoplastic particles, making their entry easier in the bloodstream, various organs, brain and even in the placenta of the unborn baby. (Freepik)
One microplastic particle can break down into billions of nanoplastic particles, making their entry easier in the bloodstream, various organs, brain and even in the placenta of the unborn baby. (Freepik)

One microplastic particle can break down into billions of nanoplastic particles, making their entry easier in the bloodstream, various organs, brain and even in the placenta of the unborn baby. As the plastic menace intensifies, the impact of microplastic and nanoplastics in the human body needs to be more extensively studied.

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Our immune system may treat microplastics or nanoplastics as invaders and considering they don't break down in the body and keep accumulating, they may cause chronic inflammation. When persistent, this inflammation can affect heart, kidneys and may even cause diabetes. Being indestructible, these nano particles of plastic would keep accumulating in the body, causing health issues that are even difficult to predict at this point.

What are nanoplastics and how they are posing threat to our health

Nanoplastics are extremely tiny particles and their size averages 1,000th the average width of a human hair and they can migrate through the tissues of the digestive tract or lungs into the bloodstream, distributing potentially harmful synthetic chemicals throughout the body and into cells. These synthetic chemicals are basically the basic constituents used in making plastic such as bisphenols, phthalates, flame retardants, per- and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAS, and heavy metals.

"On disposal, plastic waste is exposed to biological, chemical and environmental elements, and will break down into huge amounts of microplastics (measuring < 5 mm) and nanoplastics (<0.1 µm). A solitary microplastic particle will break down into billions of nanoplastics," says Dr Tushar Tayal, Lead Consultant-Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.

The average litre of bottled water contains around 240,000 detectable plastic fragments, researchers wrote in a study published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Several studies have shown that micro and nanoplastics enter into the human food chain in a variety of ways. Animals consuming them in their natural environment, contamination during the food production processes, and/or through leaching from plastic packaging of the food and drinks," adds Dr Tayal.

There are three key routes for microplastics and nanoplastics to end up in the human body: Inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. Once nanoplastics enter the human body, they can impact human health in the following ways, says Dr Tayal.

1. Nanoplastics can enter the gut epithelium and interact with different molecules such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, ions, and water and eventually the nanoplastic becomes surrounded by proteins called corona which further disseminates the nanoplastic throughout the body.

2. In the gut, it can cause liver inflammation and reduce hepatic energy levels.

3. Furthermore in the gut it causes alteration in the gut microbiota and change in the intestinal barrier where less mucus was secreted.

4. Nanoplastics can be inhaled, and they pass through the lung barrier into the blood and can damage lung epithelium cells and lead to development of chronic lung diseases such as COPD.

5. Nanoplastics can even cross placental barrier into the growing foetus and impact feral growth.

Ways nanoplastics are affecting our health

Dr Shruti Sharma, MD Dept of Internal Medicine and Diabetology, Yatharth Super Speciality Hospital shares with us 6 ways in which nanoplastics are affecting our body and mind.

Nanoplastics are minute particles, originating from the breakdown of larger plastic waste, have now become omnipresent in our surroundings. Their capacity to infiltrate human physiology, facilitated by their diminutive size, prompts a crucial journey of education to unravel their nuanced health impacts.

1. Gastrointestinal disruption

Nanoplastics, being incredibly tiny, can sneak through the lining of our gut. This causes issues by messing with the protective barrier of our stomach, potentially allowing toxins and harmful substances to enter more easily. This disruption might lead to problems like inflammatory bowel disease and changes in the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut, affecting our metabolism and immune system.

2. Oxidative stress and genotoxicity

Because of their small size, nanoplastics have a big surface area. This makes them really good at generating reactive oxygen species, which are like tiny troublemakers that can damage our cells, proteins, and even our DNA. This oxidative stress can potentially lead to mutations, creating a favourable environment for the development of cancer.

3. Neurotoxicity and cognitive decline

Evidence is emerging that nanoplastics can make their way into our brains by crossing the blood-brain barrier. This is concerning because it might lead to issues with our nervous system, possibly causing cognitive decline and even contributing to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

4. Immune system dysregulation

Our immune system, the guardian of our health, can get confused by nanoplastics. It mistakes them for invaders and goes into overdrive, causing chronic inflammation. This persistent inflammation is linked to various chronic diseases, including heart problems and diabetes.

5. Reproductive and developmental toxicity

There's growing concern about nanoplastics messing with our hormones. This interference could affect foetal development and reproductive health. More research is needed to fully understand how much of a threat this might be and what mechanisms are at play.

6. Bioaccumulation and long-term effects

Nanoplastics are like tiny hitchhikers in our bodies; they don't break down easily and can accumulate over time. This long-term presence raises worries about potential irreversible damage and the emergence of unexpected health issues down the road. Understanding these aspects is crucial for managing the impact of nanoplastics on our health.

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