Health impact of microplastics and nanoplastics: MNPs cause heart attacks

Dr Debashis Mohapatra
Dr Debashis Mohapatra
Dr Debashis Mohapatra, MBBS, MD, DM, is a seasoned cardiologist with a focus on cardiac interventional procedures, including angiography, angioplasty, and pacemaker implantation. He currently serves as an Associate consultant at BM Birla Heart Research Centre, Kolkata.

Last Updated on June 11, 2024 by Partha Protim Choudhury

In recent years, there has been a significant surge in the demand for plastic, driven by its numerous benefits to society and the economy. Particularly in industries like food production where it provides a sustainable and secure option. However, this increased reliance on plastic has led to a corresponding rise in plastic waste. This, when disposed of, undergoes degradation into microplastics (particles measuring less than 5 mm) and even smaller nanoplastics (measuring less than 0.1 µm). While previous research has extensively explored the environmental impact of microplastics, there is growing concern over their potential effects on human health.

Studies have shown that these minuscule plastic particles, collectively termed microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPs), can enter the human body through various pathways such as ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact. Once inside the body, they interact with tissues and organs, with evidence of their presence found in diverse human tissues including the placenta, lungs, liver, as well as in bodily fluids like breast milk, urine, and blood. This raises critical questions about the implications of plastic pollution on human health. Likewise, prompting a need for further investigation and policy action.

Sources and route of entry of MNPs into food chain and human body

Microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPs) can enter our bodies through ingestion or inhalation. This means that when we drink liquids or eat food stored or heated in plastic containers, MNPs may leach into what we consume. Even everyday products like toothpaste can contain MNPs. Shockingly, infants could be exposed to high levels of microplastics by drinking formula prepared in certain plastic feeding bottles. Indoors, synthetic textiles can release airborne plastic particles, leading to unintended inhalation. Outdoors, breathing in contaminated aerosols from sources like ocean waves or dried wastewater treatments poses a risk. Additionally, health and beauty products, especially body and facial scrubs, can contain nanoplastics that absorbs through the skin. Even dermal applications of nanocarriers for drug delivery can expose us to MNPs.

Research has shown that MNPs can have detrimental effects on organs, including the intestines, lungs, liver, and reproductive and nervous systems. While studies have mainly focused on laboratory rodents and human cells, recent findings have detected MNPs in human tissues like blood, lungs, placenta, and breast milk. It’s crucial to raise awareness about the potential health risks associated with microplastic and nanoplastic exposure and to advocate for measures to mitigate their impact on human health.

MNPs: Could it be a future risk factor for Heart attack?

Recent findings have unveiled a potential connection between micro and nanoplastics (MNPs) present in blood vessels and the onset of cardiovascular disease. A study analyzing atherosclerotic plaques surgically removed from the carotid arteries of 304 individuals revealed a concerning pattern: plastic was detected in approximately half of the samples, with polyethylene found in 150 samples and polyvinyl chloride in 31. Further examination using electron microscopy identified jagged-edged particles, indicative of MNPs, within the plaques.

The deposition of plastic in these plaques showed a strong association with the subsequent development of cardiovascular disease. Over a 34-month period, individuals with evidence of MNPs in their plaques had a staggering 4.5-fold higher risk of experiencing a composite endpoint of nonfatal myocardial infarction, nonfatal stroke, or death from any cause compared to those without such evidence.

Moreover, data from in vitro studies suggest that specific MNPs can trigger oxidative stress, inflammation, and apoptosis in endothelial and other vascular cells. Animal models further corroborate the role of MNPs in various cardiac complications. Results including altered heart rate, impairment of cardiac function, myocardial fibrosis, and endothelial dysfunction. These findings underscore the emerging significance of micro and nanoplastic pollution as a novel and alarming risk factor for heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.

Conclusion

In response to the escalating concern over microplastic pollution and the health impact of microplastics, global initiatives led by organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union, and the United Nations Environment Assembly are striving to address this pressing issue. WHO’s assessment of the risks posed by microplastics in drinking water underscores the urgency of action. Recognizing the urgency, the European Union has already implemented restrictions on the intentional addition of microplastics to products and has set ambitious targets for reducing microplastic pollution by 2030. Moreover, the UN Environment Assembly’s resolution to develop a global plastics treaty reflects a concerted international effort to mitigate the impacts of plastic pollution.

However, while progress is being made on regulatory fronts, further research is crucial on health impact of microplastics. This is to fully understand the mechanisms of micro and nanoplastic toxicity in humans. The potential long-term effects of ingested microplastics and nanoplastics on human health warrant thorough investigation. These particles not only pose a direct environmental stressor but also have an affinity for pathogens. Heavy metals, and other harmful organic pollutants, exacerbates their impact on cardiac function and overall health in living organisms. As we strive to combat plastic pollution and safeguard public health, continued collaboration and research efforts are imperative to address this complex and evolving challenge.

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