UNM researchers study the impact of microplastics on humans

UNM researchers study the impact of microplastics on humans

Microplastics are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and all throughout our bodies.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Microplastics are microscopic plastic particles that you can’t see with the human eye. Researchers say they’re in our oceans, rivers, lakes, soil, and clouds. They’re in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and all throughout our bodies.

“There’s a lot of unknowns that we’re really working to, to move forward,” said Dr. Marcus Garcia, a researcher with the UNM School of Medicine.

Garcia is just one of the UNM researchers working to learn exactly what microplastics do once they’re inside our bodies.

“They’re everywhere in our environment, I mean, we’re seeing them in our food, we’re seeing them in our water, so very hard to get away from them at this point,” Garcia said. “It is estimated that we consume about five grams of microplastics per week.”

They are studying how microplastics move through the digestive system and where they end up. Garcia said they observed mice over four weeks and discovered that microplastics – as expected – don’t just pass right through.

“It was very insightful to be able to actually see that there are microplastics in liver, kidney, of course, we saw some in the colon as well,” Garcia said. “But one of the most insightful things is that we’re actually able to identify these microplastics as transporting into the brain as well.”

UNM researchers recently studied human placentas and found microplastics in every one of their samples.

Previous research also confirmed there are microplastics in our blood, so that means they can be anywhere in our body. But researchers still don’t know exactly what microplastics do to our bodies.

“There are many unknown questions that we’re working to answer,” Garcia said. “Are these microplastics as they accumulate in our body leading to some of these chronic conditions? Or how are they going to affect individuals who may already have these chronic conditions?”

Garcia says answering those questions is the next step before we really understand how serious the microplastic problem is.

“This is something that isn’t going to be going away anytime soon,” Garcia said. “As long as we can have that information and have people aware of what’s going into our bodies, that’s going to be something that’s going to be very important for pushing that needle forward in terms of change as well.”

So where do microplastics come from? It’s not a simple answer – they come from many places. Plastic water bottles in a landfill can release microplastics into the environment, but so do the tires on your car, or even some of the clothes you wear. For example, polyester is a synthetic fabric and can reportedly release microplastics into water while in the washing machine.

Researchers say it’s basically impossible to avoid microplastics at this point, but that’s not a reason to panic. They are still trying to figure out how harmful it may be to our bodies.

For more information about UNM’s research on microplastics, click here.