In a recent small-scale investigation, researchers discovered a link between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and higher levels of microplastics in feces. The results were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The study, however, does not prove that microplastics cause IBD. More research is needed to confirm the findings and then seek an explanation for the link.
IBD is a broad term that refers to a variety of gastrointestinal disorders marked by inflammation. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most frequent kinds.
Diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, abdominal pain, and exhaustion are all symptoms of IBD.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes IBD, but they believe it starts when a person who is genetically predisposed to the disease is exposed to a specific trigger. More research is needed to determine how important environmental triggers are.
IBD and microplastics
The researchers wanted to discover if there was a link between microplastics and IBD in this new study. Microplastics are present in people’s bodies throughout their lives, yet the health repercussions are unknown.
“We urgently need to know more about the health consequences of microplastics since they are everywhere—including in our drinking water,” says Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director of Public Health, Environment, and Social Determinants of Health.
“Microplastics in drinking water do not appear to constitute a health danger at current levels, based on the limited knowledge we have.” However, we need to learn more. We must also halt the global surge of plastic pollution.”
The current study’s corresponding author is Dr. Yan Zhang. He works at Nanjing University’s School of Environment’s State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, where he previously discovered that microplastics accumulate in the liver, kidney, and intestine in animal models.
He also discovered that the particle size of the microplastics had a significant impact on the accumulation.
“Compelling evidence suggests that microplastics primarily collect in the guts of many species and induce intestinal inflammation and metabolic disturbance,” the researcher told Medical News Today. “Microplastics will inevitably come into contact with humans.”
“Estimating the exposure levels and loads of microplastics in people is crucial for assessing the health risk of microplastics.” However, accurate evidence on the effects of microplastics on humans is still unavailable. Furthermore, the actual health danger of human exposure to microplastics has long been a source of worry.
Because microplastics are routinely ingested through the gut, the researchers wanted to see if there was a link between microplastics and IBD.
They did this by examining fecal samples from study participants. The researchers gathered 52 persons with IBD and 50 people who were otherwise healthy but did not have IBD.
The participants answered questions on the foods and beverages they consume, their working and living conditions over the past year, the state of their IBD, and their demographic characteristics on a questionnaire.
The scientists then looked at the feces samples to see how much and what kind of microplastics were present.
Microplastics linked to IBD
They discovered that those with IBD had considerably more microplastic in their stools than those who were healthy.
Further research revealed a link between the severity of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and the number of microplastics present.
The researchers also discovered that persons who had more microplastic in their stool samples drank more bottled water, ate more takeout food, and were exposed to more dust where they lived or worked.
“For the first time, this study reveals that there is a significant difference in the concentration of microplastics in feces from IBD patients and healthy people. Our study also indicates that the characteristics of fecal microplastics are useful to estimate the gut exposure of microplastics.”
– Dr. Yan Zhang
“It’s difficult to say whether microplastics play a role in the development of IBD because it’s a complex systemic disease with an unknown etiology.” People with IBD are more likely to retain microplastics, we suspect.”
The study had flaws as well, the most significant of which was its small size. Before scientists can reach more solid findings, they must perform much larger investigations.
“The concentration of [microplastics] in feces found in this study cannot directly match the concentration of [microplastics] in the gastrointestinal system or in the human body,” the study authors write.
To put it another way, just though people with IBD excrete more microplastic doesn’t mean they have more microplastic in their bodies.