We're unintentionally consuming huge amounts of plastic - what's it doing to our bodies?

Humans are consuming a shocking amount of plastic [Photo: Getty]
Humans are consuming a shocking amount of plastic [Photo: Getty]

Humans could be consuming up to 52,000 microplastic particles a year, new research has revealed.

More worrying still is that researchers believe the true number is likely to be even higher, as only a small number of foods and drinks were analysed in the study.

The research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found microplastics present in the air, soil, rivers and oceans make their way into human bodies.

The report, which was compiled using data from a series of studies, estimated that humans consume between 39,000 and 52,000 particles each a year.

READ MORE: A plastic-free period is possible: Here’s how

But that increases when inhaling microplastics from the air around us are included, with up to 121,000 particles consumed.

And bottled water drinkers can expect their intake of the plastic-stuff to rise by a further 90,000, compared with an increase of 4,000 for those who only drink tap water.

What ingesting plastic does to your body

According to a report by the Guardian, the health impacts of ingesting plastic are still unclear, but some pieces of microplastic are actually small enough to penetrate human tissues, which could trigger immune reactions.

Experts have previously raised concerns about the impact ingesting plastic particles could have on our bodies, warning that plastic in the gut could suppress the immune system and aid the transmission of toxins and harmful bugs or viruses.

“The reality of the situation is that there hasn’t been enough scientific research to ascertain whether or not consuming plastic is actually harmful to the human body or not, and if so, what negative effects it has on human health,” advises Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click.

“Animal studies looking at the effects of ingesting plastic have found to have negative impacts on the liver, fertility and hormone function of animals; but this hasn’t been looked at in humans.”

READ MORE: How to quit plastic: 6 simple switches you can make today

Kanani believes it could be challenging to study the effects that ingesting plastics has on human health, as people cannot be expected to eat plastic for research purposes.

“Plastic also isn’t one thing, it comes in different forms and can contain many different additives such as pigments, softeners, water repellents etc., so it will be quite difficult to pin point whether it’s the plastic, or its additives that is having negative effects on our health,” he adds.

“There are many different factors that need to be looked into from the source of the plastic, to the different types of plastic to its additives etc. However, I’m sure with time, we will have more conclusive evidence, but for now, it’s unclear how plastics affect human health.”

Drinking from plastic water bottles could increase the plastic you ingest [Photo: Getty]
Drinking from plastic water bottles could increase the plastic you ingest [Photo: Getty]

It isn’t the first time that a warning has been issued about the amount of plastic humans are ingesting.

Last year, scientists revealed that humans are ingesting microscopic plastic particles in their food.

The study’s researchers found that people eat tiny pieces of plastic along with their food – after a test on faeces found plastic in every sample investigated.

People from the UK and seven other countries took part in the study – and up to 20 pieces of plastic were found in every 10g of stool sample.

Though the research did not uncover where each of the plastic particles came from, a food diary kept by all the participants showed they all consumed food and drink wrapped in plastic.

Researchers suggested the plastic could come from the packaging the food is contained in, or the techniques used to process or manufacture it.

But it could also come from plastic consumed by sea life.

A further warning was issued in 2018 which experts claiming plastic contamination could soon be “catastrophic” for human health.

Seawater samples collected throughout a 45,000 mile journey on the Volvo Ocean race round-the-world sailing event have revealed traces of microplastics almost everywhere, including in the remotest waters in the Southern Ocean.

Speaking about the findings Dr Luiza Mirpuri, Mirpuri Foundation’s Medical Advisor, said: “It will be catastrophic, not now but in the third generation because each time we have diseases, new diseases from new contaminants.

“We are having more cancer, more allergic diseases, more infertility. We are less fertile than our grandfathers.”

Dr Mirpuri went on to warn that plastic is slowly “killing the human race”.