Microplastics can cause Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Microplastics are ubiquitous in our environment and there is increasing evidence of their potentially harmful effects on our health.

Microplastics and nanoplastics are tiny plastic particles that occur in the environment. Microplastics range in size from a few micrometers (μm) to 5 millimeters (mm), while nanoplastics are even smaller, with dimensions ranging from a few nanometers (nm) to a few micrometers.

These particles can arise from the breakdown of larger plastics such as bottles, bags or packaging, or can arise directly in the form of micro- or nanoplastics in personal care products, textiles and other products. Microplastics and nanoplastics can enter the environment in various ways, such as through direct disposal, wear and tear of plastic products, or through the release of personal care products such as facial scrubs or cleansing products.

These small plastics can pose an environmental problem because they are difficult to remove and can accumulate in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, affecting wildlife and potentially entering the food chain, causing human health concerns.

Micro- and nanoplastics accumulate in our bodies

Last year, scientists discovered that these small particles can enter the bloodstream and potentially build up in our organs over time. Research has now shown that small plastic particles can destroy the blood-brain barrier, the network of blood vessels and tissue that protects the brain from toxins and pathogens.

This can have serious consequences for our health, especially as these particles continue to accumulate in our body. Microplastics can cause brain inflammation and lead to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“People are constantly exposed to polymer materials such as textiles, tires and packaging.
Unfortunately, their decomposition products contaminate our environment and cause widespread micro and nanoplastic pollution,” write scientists working in Austria and Hungary.

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“The blood-brain barrier (BBB) ​​is an important biological barrier that protects the brain from harmful substances,” they explain.

“We showed that nanoparticles, but not larger particles, reach the brain just two hours after the probe.”

Scientists realized this after feeding mice micro- and nano-polystyrene (MNP), a type of plastic commonly used in commercial applications such as food packaging, and then testing it on animals.

“Using computer models, we found that a certain surface structure (biomolecular halo) is important for the invasion,” explains Oldamur Hollocki, a scientist at the University of Debrecen in Hungary, about the entry of plastic particles into the brain.

Colleague Lukas Kenner, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, added: “In the brain, plastic particles can increase the risk of inflammation, neurological disorders and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

Nanoplastics are smaller than 0.001 mm and can enter the food chain from sources such as food and liquid packaging.

Microplastics in water

The researchers found that people who drink 1.5 to 2 liters of plastic bottled water daily ingest about 90,000 plastic particles per year, according to previous studies. “However, depending on geographical location, drinking tap water can help reduce this number to 40,000,” says the University of Vienna.

The effects of microplastics circulating in our bodies are not fully understood. In the meantime, however, we must “mitigate the potentially harmful effects of microplastics and nanoplastics on people and the environment,” emphasized Kenner.

“It is extremely important to limit its exposure and use until further research is conducted on the effects of MNP,” the scientist said.

With information in English

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