Researchers Have Found Microplastics in Human faeces for the First Time

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Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, either found in products like exfoliants or disintegrated from larger pieces of plastic such as those that often end up in the ocean. Data on human exposure to microplastics is very little, and the new study is the first to quantify the particles in human stool.

Two Austrian researchers, Dr. Philipp Schwabl from the Medical University of Vienna, and Dr. Bettina Liebmann, from the Environment Agency Austria, studied participants from countries including Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria.

And the concern is "what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases", Schwabl says.

In other studies, the highest microplastics concentrations were found in animals in the gastrointestinal tract, but smallest plastic particles were also found in blood, lymph and even in the liver.

Two of the most common polymers found in the study were polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

"Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, fish and mussel tissue, and even in beer", he added. "And how can we avoid plastic entering our bodies?'"

Each kept a week-long log of what they ate, and then provided a stool sample.

The team believes the plastics are being ingested by means of the food chain (where people eat tainted fish, for instance) and by tiny bits of plastic coming off food packaging, similar to bottles. But research into its effects on human health are limited, Ruairi Robertson, a postdoctoral researcher in studies of the gut at the University of British Columbia, said by phone. Schwabl, a physician scientist at the Medical University of Vienna's Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, presented the findings of the study on October 22 at the UEG Week in Vienna, a European gastroenterology meeting.

These showed they were all exposed to the health endangering particles by consuming foods wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles.

Sherri Mason of the State University of NY at Fredonia, who headed up that study, noted that there were numerous health implications of ingesting microplastic, including various kinds of cancer, lower sperm count and even an increase in conditions such as ADHD and autism.

The paper said that none of the participants of the research were vegetarians and more than half of them were consumers of seafish.

The Austrian authors acknowledged that "further studies are necessary to assess the potential risk of microplastic for humans". Dr Schwabl admitted: 'Personally, I did not expect each sample would be tested positive'. Another report sampling popular water bottle brands found that 90% of them contained pieces of plastic, estimating some 10 particles per liter on average, though an exact number can't be identified as some particles are too small to be detected. Researchers looked for 10 different types of plastics.

Inverse's Betuel notes that the presence of plastics in participants' stool suggests some particles are still hiding inside the body. Founder of a British Organic food company Guy Singh-Watson told BBC news that the public's tunnel vision over recycling could even be risky.

One Canadian expert said the findings should not be considered surprising given previous research showing microplastic contamination in the food chain.

It has become virtually impossible to escape eating plastic, but its health implications are largely unknown.

"It now appears to be impossible for people to avoid ingesting or breathing in plastic pollution, . we don't yet know what effect it has on human health".

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