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The Growing Health Concerns of Plastic – Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Plastics Effect on Health
March 12, 2024

This is a guest blog post from WWSG exclusive thought leader, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Plastic is all around us: in water bottles, food containers, shampoo bottles, tires. There are many environmental concerns over their use, but there are also growing health concerns.

Last week, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who had evidence of microplastics and nanoplastics in their carotid arteries had double the risk of heart attack, stroke or death compared with people who had no plastics in their arteries.

Microplastics and nanoplastics are tiny fragments that can make their way into our cells and tissues. Microplastics can range from less than 0.2 inch (5 millimeters) down to 1/25,000th of an inch (1 micrometer), and nanoplastics are even smaller: just 1,000th the average width of a human hair.

Our carotid arteries lie on each side of the neck and carry blood to the brain. These arteries can become clogged with fatty cholesterol plaques just like arteries leading into the heart, a process known as atherosclerosis.

The authors of the new study looked at tissue removed from the neck arteries of 257 people who had carotid endarterectomy, a surgery that removes plaque buildup. Of those, there was evidence of polyethylene — a common plastic used in plastic wrap, plastic bags, and food and drink containers — in the plaque tissue of 150 people.

Some samples also contained chlorine, used to treat swimming pool water and in the production of hundreds of consumer products such as paper, paints, textiles and insecticides. Samples from another 31 patients had measurable amounts of polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl.

Although this data still needs to be confirmed by other studies and in more populations, the study is the “first that associated plastic contamination with human diseases,” lead study author Dr. Raffaele Marfella said.

Asked about the study, the American Chemistry Council, an industry association, told CNN that “to help reduce new sources of microplastic in our environment, plastic makers have a goal for all US plastic packaging to be reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040.”

In the meantime, there are ways to limit your exposure to plastic:

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