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Microplastics in human placentas raise fetal, maternal health concerns

Doctors say the new findings of microplastics in placentas are concerning because they develop over only eight months.
Microplastics in human placentas raise fetal, maternal health concerns
Posted at 4:24 PM, Feb 28, 2024

We know that plastic is everywhere; it’s found in our everyday items, even making its way into our food and bodies.

Now, a group of scientists from the University of New Mexico has published a study stating they found microplastics in human placentas, raising concerns about the health of babies and pregnant people.

The study, published in the journal Toxicological Sciences, looked at 62 placenta samples and found microplastics with levels ranging from 6.5-790 micrograms per gram of tissue in every single one of them.

The researchers found that most of the plastic (54%) in placental tissue was made of polyethylene, the most widely used plastic in the world, used to make plastic bags, bottles, cosmetics, toys, and many other things. Polyvinyl chloride (known as PVC) and nylon each made up about 10%, while the rest was made of nine other types of plastics.

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Although the amount of microplastics in the placenta is small, even in micrograms, which is a millionth of a gram, doctors worry about how these plastics can have a negative effect as we continue to consume them in the long run.

“Dose makes the poison,” team leader Matthew Campen, professor in the UNM Department of Pharmaceutical Science, said in a press release. “If the dose keeps going up, we start to worry. If we’re seeing effects on placentas, then all mammalian life on this planet could be impacted. That’s not good.”

Many studies, like this one, have reported the presence of microplastics in the human body, including in our bloodbrain and breast milk, indicating widespread contamination, and Campen says it’s only going to get worse.

“The trajectory is it will double every 10-15 years,” Campen said. “So, even if we were to stop it today, in 2050 there will be three times as much plastic in the background as there is now. And we’re not going to stop it today.”

Campen points out that while the health effects of microplastics are not fully known, their accumulation in human tissue may also explain increases in health problems like inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer in young adults, and declining sperm counts. Previous studies have noted that these tiny particles of plastic can indeed harm human cells.

Furthermore, Campen notes that the new findings of microplastics in placentas are concerning because they develop over the course of only eight months, while “other organs of your body are accumulating over much longer periods of time.”

The scientists say they plan to do further research on how these plastics affect the health of both babies and pregnant individuals.


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