We breathe in microplastics the size of a credit card every week: how deep does it go?

We are surrounded by plastic particles everywhere, the size of which is less than 5 millimeters. They are best known by the termmicroplastics, and are produced in unimaginable quantities at any given time. For example, tiny fragments of plastic are created when bottles, bags and equipment cases decompose. Other sources of microplastics include car tires and synthetic clothing. Right now, with 100% probability, we are surrounded by a cloud of plastic, invisible to the naked eye, which penetrates into the body not only with food, but also during breathing. Scientists recently conducted a study to find out in which parts of the human respiratory system these particles accumulate the most. This is important to know, because this will make it easier for biologists to understand exactly what harm microplastics cause to our bodies.

We inhale microplastics the size of a credit card every week: how deep does it penetrate? Scientists have more and more reasons to believe that microplastics are harmful to our health. Photo.

Scientists have more and more reasons to believe that microplastics are harmful to our health

How microplastics enter the human body

The most obvious route for microplastics to enter the human body is through the digestive tract. We often drink water from plastic bottles, eat from plastic containers, and so on – hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny plastic particles get inside us. In 2019, WHO experts believed that microplastics are not harmful to health. But today the attitude of scientists towards these particles has changed dramatically. Microplastics have been blamed for a huge number of health problems. For example, it is believed to be to blame for inflammatory bowel disease.

How microplastics enter the human body. Microplastics enter our bodies along with food, because it is often in plastic containers. Photo.

Microplastics enter our body along with food, because it is often in plastic containers

However, microplastics enter the human body not only through the mouth. Scientists have good reason to believe that microscopic plastics enter the lungs during breathing. In 2023, researchers announced that we inhale enough plastic every week to fill a single credit card.

Microplastics in the human lungs

Of course, when we breathe, microplastics enter our respiratory system. But ours is very complex and consists of many parts – which of them usually accumulates the most garbage?

In 2022, scientists tried to study microplastics that accumulate in the depths of human lungs. That's cool, but recently Australian researchers decided to do more – they tried to track the journey of tiny plastic particles throughout the respiratory system.

Interesting fact:microplastics are released into the air around us from the most unexpected sources. For example, tiny particles can be released from toothpastes because they are added to them to better remove dirt from teeth.

Microplastics in human lungs. Every day we inhale an unimaginable amount of microplastics. Photo.

Every day we inhale unimaginable amounts of microplastic

They followed the movement of the plastic from the nasal cavity to the bronchial tree inside the lungs. The authors of the scientific work also took into account that you and I always breathe differently: slowly, normally and quickly. And they haven’t forgotten about the different sizes of plastic waste.

The computer model showed that relatively large microplastics up to 5 millimeters in size usually remain on the mucous membranes of the nose. Medium microplastics accumulate in the upper respiratory tract. And the smallest particles (nanoplastics) penetrate into the very depths of the human lungs, where those responsible for gas exchange are located. The faster and deeper we breathe, the faster plastic debris penetrates us. And it is almost impossible to escape from this, because even medical masks are made of synthetic materials.

Read also: What types of microplastics exist and why is it found even in clouds?

The impact of microplastics on human health

If we take into account everything written above, perhaps all of us, without exception, have long been filled with microscopic garbage. This sounds scary, especially considering that scientists still cannot understandhow microplastics affect human health

The impact of microplastics on human health. Scientists still do not know about the long-term impact of microplastics on human health. Photo.

Scientists still don’t know about the long-term effects of microplastics on human health

But researchers are already working to find the answer to this question. The results of their work, alas, are disappointing. For example, in 2023, my colleague Andrei Zhukov said that microplastics penetrate not only the human digestive tract and respiratory system, but also the brain. In 2021, science became aware that microplastics can increase cholesterol, and this is fraught with serious problems with the functioning of the heart and blood vessels. That same year, scientists announced that tiny particles could change the shape of the lungs.

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