Microplastics have been found in food, water, air, and some parts of the human body, according to scientists. Examining the innermost organs that are not directly exposed to the environment, on the other hand, is still limited.
Researchers in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal report finding microplastics in many heart tissues in a pilot study of people who had heart surgery. They also present evidence that microplastics were unintentionally introduced during the procedures.
Plastic fragments less than 5 mm wide, or about the size of a pencil eraser, are referred to as microplastics. According to research, they can enter the human body through the mouth, nose, and other body cavities with connections to the outside world.
However, several organs and tissues are completely enclosed within a person’s body, and scientists know little about their potential exposure to and effects from microplastics. As a result, Kun Hua, Xiubin Yang, and coworkers wanted to see if these particles had entered people’s cardiovascular systems via indirect or direct exposure.
In a pilot study, the researchers took pre- and post-operative blood samples from half of the participants and heart tissue samples from 15 patients during cardiac operations. Following that, the team used laser direct infrared imaging to analyze the samples and discovered 20 to 500 µm-wide particles made of eight different types of plastic, including polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, and poly (methyl methacrylate).
Although the quantities and materials varied between participants, this method was able to identify tens to thousands of distinct microplastic particles in the majority of tissue samples. Plastic particles were present in every blood sample, but after surgery, the average size of the particles decreased, and they came from a wider variety of plastics.
Despite the small sample size, the researchers claim to have furnished preliminary evidence that different microplastics can accumulate and exist in the heart and its innermost tissues.
They go on to say that the findings demonstrate how invasive medical procedures, which provide direct access to the bloodstream and internal tissues, are an overlooked route of microplastic exposure.
The researchers conclude that more research is needed to completely understand the effects of microplastics on a person’s cardiovascular system and prognosis after heart surgery.
Yang, Y., et al. (2023). Detection of Various Microplastics in Patients Undergoing Cardiac Surgery. Environmental Science & Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c07179.