MAR 07, 2024 11:09 AM PST

Microplastics Found in Clogged Arteries

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Plastics are ubiquitous in our society. Made from petroleum products, these highly durable materials have what seems like an endless array of applications, some of which last a long time, like parts of a car, while others might only be used for as long as it takes to consume a drink or open a wrapper. This tough stuff doesn't really break down, it just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces, and researchers have found microplastics and nanoplastics in plants, rainclouds, air, drinking water, and many other places, including the human placenta.

Image credit: Pixabay

Now researchers have revealed the presence of microplastics in clogged arteries. This study was very small, and only analyzed samples from 257 patients who had gotten surgery to clear blockages. But it has raised very serious questions. The findings have been reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this work, the researchers assessed the fatty buildup in the carotid arteries of these patients. Evidence of nanoplastics, which are not usually visible to the naked eye because they are so small, was found in 150 patients, while there was no evidence of nanoplastic in 107 patients.

Following the analysis, the investigators monitored the patients for three years. During that period, about one-quarter of those who had nanoplastics in their arteries had experienced a heart attack, stroke, or death by any cause compared to around eight percent of those who had not appeared to carry nanoplastics in their arteries.

There were also higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers, which can also raise cardiovascular disease risk, in the plastic-laden individuals compared to those not carrying evidence of nanoplastics.

This study did not investigate the potential source of the nanoplastics found in the patients. It also only included individuals who already had serious cardiovascular disease, and who therefore a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke than average people. Some statistical adjustments were made to account for these factors, but more research will be needed to confirm these findings. There is still no conclusive evidence that nanoplastics are the direct cause of an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death. However, it seems likely that the ubiquity of plastics in our environment, food, and water is having some type of impact on us.

"The study is intriguing. However, there are really substantial limitations," cardiology expert Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic told the Associated Press. "It's a wake-up call that perhaps we need to take the problem of microplastics more seriously. As a cause for heart disease? Not proven. As a potential cause? Yes, maybe."

"I hope that the alarming message from our study will raise the consciousness of citizens, especially governments, to finally become aware of the importance of the health of our planet," noted senior study author Dr. Raffaele Marfella of the University of Campania.

Sources: Medical Express via The Associated Press, New England Journal of Medicine

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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