(CTN News) – For the first time, microplastics have been discovered in the human heart and its innermost tissues. In spite of the fact that the health consequences of this are still unknown, the new study serves as a grim reminder of how rampant the plastic pollution problem has become in the last century.
Researchers at Beijing Anzhen Hospital in China collected cardiac tissue samples from 15 patients undergoing heart surgery, as well as blood samples taken both pre- and post-surgery.
A press release states that the researchers detected tens to thousands of microplastic pieces in most tissue samples using a variety of imaging techniques.
It is clear that surgery introduced microplastics, but there was also evidence that the foreign plastics were embedded in tissues before surgery took place.
To begin with, all of the blood samples contained microplastics.
The blood samples taken post-surgery contained microplastics of smaller size and exhibited a more diverse range of plastic types. As a result, it is likely that some microplastics were introduced into the body during the surgery.
Five types of heart tissue were found to contain nine types of plastic, according to the researchers. It appears that some of these microplastics were present before any operation was performed.
The team identified microscopic particles of poly(methyl methacrylate) – a plastic commonly used as a shatter-resistant alternative to glass – in the left atrial appendage, epicardial adipose tissue, and pericardial adipose tissue, which they believe cannot be attributed to accidental exposure during surgery.
In addition to polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, and polyvinyl chloride, which are widely used in construction and building materials, were also found in the sample.
“The detection of MPs [microplastics] in vivo in cardiac tissues is alarming, and more studies are needed to examine how MPs enter cardiac tissues and their potential effects on long-term prognosis after cardiac surgery,” the study authors conclude.
Microplastics can be found in practically every corner of the Earth’s environment, from the ice of Antarctica to the snow of the Arctic.
There is growing evidence that microplastics are becoming more prevalent in the human body as well. Human poop is contaminated with microplastics, indicating that these materials are prevalent within the human digestive system.
In addition, there is evidence that microplastics have been embedded in a number of other organs and tissues. Human placentas have even been found to contain them.
There is little agreement on the impact of microplastic on animal health, although it is becoming evident that it does have a detrimental effect.
In any case, given that plastics have only been mass-produced for less than a century, it is quite amazing how ubiquitous they have become.
An article describing the study has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.