The Potential Impact of Microplastics on Major Organs, Including the Brain: What Science Says

Early research shows reason for concern, finding microplastics can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in mice and accumulate in animal organs.

That delicious slice of pizza you are eating may come with an invisible side of plastic. Every day, microplastics—tiny plastic fragments smaller than a grain of rice—are making their way into our food supply, our water, and, subsequently, our bodies.

Early research shows reason for concern, finding microplastics can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in mice and accumulate in animal organs.

You’re Likely Ingesting Microplastics Every Day, Studies Warn

Larger plastics like shopping bags and water bottles degrade into microplastics over time. Elements like sunlight and water break down plastics that evade waste management, reducing them to microscopic size. Everyday products like cosmetics, synthetic fabrics, and single-use plastic bags also shed plastic particles. These tiny plastic fragments travel through water, air, and the food chain until they ultimately enter our bodies.

Plastic production has climbed exponentially to over 460 million tonnes in 2019. It is estimated that people ingest approximately 5 grams of plastic per week, an amount equal to the weight of a credit card, according to a 2019 analysis (pdf) published by the World Wildlife Federation, an independent conservation organization.

Since many people consume bottled water daily, microplastic exposure is far-reaching.

“Unfortunately, microplastics are largely unavoidable in today’s world,” Dr. Christopher Palmer, a Harvard professor, told The Epoch Times. “They are everywhere, including in the snow at the top of Mount Everest. In fact, children born today are exposed to microplastics in utero. A small study of six human placentas found microplastics in all the tissues studied.”

In the past year, researchers tested 22 people and found that most had detectable microplastics in their blood, according to a 2022 study published in Environment International.

Research links plastic chemicals, such as phthalates and bisphenols, to conditions like obesity and diabetes, potentially caused by inflammation and hormone disruption.

Surgery may also introduce microplastics into the bloodstream and organs.

2023 Chinese pilot study published in Environmental Science and Technology uncovered the presence of microplastics in heart tissue.

Researchers collected and analyzed blood samples from 15 patients before and after cardiovascular surgery. Nine types of microplastics were found across five tissue types.

After surgery, the plastic particles were smaller and more varied in composition. The invasive procedures appeared to introduce additional microplastics into the bloodstream. From there, the particles made their way into the innermost tissues of the heart.

How Do Microplastics Affect Health?

These tiny particles contain harmful chemicals like flame retardants, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and plasticizers such as BPA, which can disrupt hormones and cause chronic inflammation.

Scientists are finding that over time, microplastics accumulate in vital organs. This buildup of plastic fragments in the body may lead to potentially long-term health consequences.

Microplastics Can Quickly Infiltrate Cells and Tissues

Microplastics can infiltrate cells within 24 hours of exposure and accumulate near the cell’s nucleus in mice, according to a 2023 International Journal of Molecular Sciences study. The authors discovered that the longer the cells were exposed to microplastics, the more the cells’ viability was reduced.

The researchers examined major tissues including the brain, liver, kidney, gastrointestinal tract, heart, spleen, and lungs to see where microplastics accumulate. “Surprisingly,” they wrote, they detected microplastics “in every tissue examined,” as well as in urine and feces.

The study also showed increased inflammatory immune markers like cytokines and tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha) in mice exposed to microplastics.

When these tiny particles enter the body, immune cells recognize them as foreign invaders, initiating an inflammatory reaction to remove them. Prolonged exposure to microplastics can lead to chronic inflammation.

The Brain’s Battle Against Microplastics

Microplastics can rapidly infiltrate even the most protected organ—the brain—according to a 2023 Austrian study published in Nanomaterials. Researchers gave mice drinking water containing microplastics. The plastic particles had migrated into the mice’s brains within just two hours.

The microplastics then became enveloped in cholesterol molecules on the brain’s surface. This enabled them to cross the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects the brain from toxins and chemicals.

“The studies in mice are alarming,” Dr. Palmer said. “They have demonstrated widespread distribution of microplastics throughout the body, including the brain, within two hours of consumption. This new research suggests what researchers have feared: Microplastics can cause brain inflammation quickly and produce behavior changes within three weeks in mice. However, we need more research to evaluate their impact in humans,” he added.

Microplastics Fuel Dementia in Mice

The International Journal of Molecular Sciences study also demonstrated microplastics’ potential neurotoxicity. After just three weeks of exposure, mice developed dementia-like behavioral changes. Older mice exhibited more impaired behaviors than younger ones.

The authors also noted that microplastics decreased levels of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), which supports brain cell processes. A reduction in GFAP is associated with some neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. GFAP serves as a biomarker indicating Alzheimer’s disease-related issues before the onset of dementia.

Reducing Microplastics in Our Lives

Even though microplastics surround us every day, we can take essential steps to reduce these pervasive plastics in our lives, including the following:

  • Stainless steel water bottles can serve as a sustainable replacement for plastic water bottles.
  • Bring canvas or cotton bags to the grocery store.
  • Instead of grabbing a coffee in a paper cup at the local café, customers can present their reusable mugs to baristas.
  • Since animals, livestock, and some farmed fish are fed feed pellets often containing microplastics, consumers should choose organically raised meat whenever possible.

“You do everything you can to limit your toxic exposure,” Christopher Kelley, a Wisconsin-based physician assistant and founder of North Star Integrative Health, told The Epoch Times.

“You know that you’ll never get it all, but every little bit that you do helps your overall health.”

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Michelle Standlee where all credits are due.


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