Microplastics in Blood: Uncovering Their Link to Stroke and Heart Disease

Microplastics in Blood: Uncovering Their Link to Stroke and Heart Disease / Alessandra Edwards

Leo Hendrik Baekeland’s journey from a cobbler’s son to a renowned chemist is a story of unexpected twists and groundbreaking discoveries.

Born in 1863 to a Belgian cobbler, Leo’s path was redirected by his determined mother, who insisted he study diligently for a better future. This decision led him to Ghent University as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 1888. Life took another interesting turn when he married his professor’s daughter (way to go, Leo!) and eventually found himself in America working as a photographic chemist.

During his time in America, Baekeland stumbled upon a revolutionary discovery in his backyard lab. Mixing formaldehyde and phenol, he created bakelite, a durable resin that could be moulded and hardened. Bakelite became immensely popular and found its way into a myriad of products, from telephones to combs. Baekeland’s accidental invention made him very wealthy and established him as the forefather of modern plastics.

According to a BBC news article, Time Magazine hailed it as a wonder material, declaring,

“It will not burn, it will not melt.”

Ironically, this same durability has become a problem in modern times as bakelite not only persists in our environment but it is also the direct precursor of another pervasive and almost indestructible material in our lives today–microplastics. These tiny particles, invisible to the naked eye, have infiltrated every corner of the planet, from our laundry bins to the air we breathe, and even our bloodstream.

I was amazed to discover that microplastics are ubiquitous in the modern household, as they are found in toothpaste, toothbrushes, dust that collects on our floorboards and eroded fibres from everyday items like drying fleece and carpets.

Not only have they become an unavoidable part of our daily lives but they can penetrate biological barriers such as our gut, skin, lungs and even placental tissue, raising concerns about their long term impact on our health.

Researchers are diligently studying the effects of microplastics in various settings, including laboratory models and animal studies. Still, the true extent of their impact on human health remains largely unknown.

Studies seem to suggest that microplastics can trigger inflammation and oxidative stress in heart cells, potentially leading to heart function impairment, altered heart rate, and cardiac scarring. Observational data also suggest an increased risk of cardiovascular disease among individuals exposed to plastics-related pollution, highlighting the urgent need for further research.

Would you like some microplastics with your pizza?

A recent study in Italy examined fatty deposits removed from patients who underwent a procedure to open up their clogged arteries.

The researchers found that nearly 60% of the patients had measurable amounts of polyethylene, a common plastic used in plastic bags and bottles, in their plaques. Additionally, 12% of the patients had polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in their extracted fat deposits, a plastic commonly found in water pipes, plastic bottles, and packaging.

As we navigate the challenges posed by microplastics, there are steps we can take to reduce our exposure and protect our health. Boiling water and then filtering it to remove microplastics is one promising approach. Additionally, regular sauna sessions may help eliminate toxins, including microplastics, from the body through sweating. 

However, further research is needed to validate the effectiveness of these methods in reducing microplastic levels in the body.

Experts agree that to minimise our exposure to microplastics, there are several steps we can take:

  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers, as this can increase the shedding of plastic particles (avoid reheating rice in pouches. I’m guilty of using microwave popcorn bags).
  • Choose tap water over bottled water.
  • Use natural fabrics like cotton or wool for clothing and carpet instead of synthetic materials like polyester.
  • Store food in glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic.
  • Regularly vacuum your home to reduce the accumulation of plastic fibres in carpets and upholstery.
  • Use a glass or stainless steel keep cup for your coffee.
  • Invest in a reverse osmosis filtration system to purify all water in your home.