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Plastic Ingestion by Humans & The Plastificaton of Our Microbiome
An alarming image went viral on the internet over the last couple of years. It was the insides of a dead bird and the picture horrifically showed that the aviator’s gut biome was laden with plastic. Unfortunately for humans, we’re not much different. Sure, we haven’t swallowed whole Poland Spring caps, but plastic ingestion by humans is happening via microbe transferring.
Foods we heat up in microwaves, cups we steam clean in our dishwasher, and take-out containers are all made with inorganic ingredients that are disrupting our gut biome.
While we all turn to BPA as the problem, this plastic isn’t alone. Plastic ingestion by humans is happening everywhere and BPA isn’t the only culprit. Let’s take a look at the dangers of plastic and how it’s hurting the beneficial bacteria in our system.
Why is Plastic Bad for Gut Health?
Our body is well-trained machine. It is comprised of trillions of microbes that work in unison to keep you going. Like humans are made of microbes, so are the foods we eat. After the digestion of food, these microbes and nutrients are released into the system.
For centuries, the human diet mainly consisted of whole foods, grains, and herbs. As we’ve evolved, so has how we consume our meals. Now, we have plastic containers that hold water, Tupperware to heat up our food, and Styrofoam cups to get tea to-go. These moderns conveniences are moderately inconvenient for our gut health.
The plastics that are used to simplify our lives aren’t made of the microbes and nutrients that whole foods, grains, and herbs have. Therefore, our immune cells, intestinal flora, and stomach bacteria have no means to communicate with these molecules. As a result, they remain in our system and ultimately, may become a disaster for the health of your gut biome.
Plastic Ingestion by Humans and Hormone Disruption
It’s no coincidence that the rise of plastic ingestion by humans has coincided with the rise of infertility among men and women. Men have seen infertility rates double in the last 40 years 1. Meanwhile, 11% of women are demonstrating problems getting pregnant as well 2.
Many of the reasons for infertility is due to the everyday practices of those who follow the Standard American Diet (SAD). SAD is rich in saturated fats that have shown to clog up the system, cause Leaky Gut Syndrome, and ultimately destroy intestinal flora that helps facilitate the growth of essential hormones.
Now look at this list. There are plastics used in every step of the process from warehouse to grocery store when it comes to saturated fat food production. So now you’re consuming edibles that cause your body trouble with the digestion of food and wrapping them in something that can cause even more issues.
Plastic Ingestion by Humans and Estrogen Mimicry
The reason plastic is causing infertility isn’t just the body having trouble breaking down inorganic ingredients. Research suggests that 72% of 445 plastic products mimic the female reproductive hormone, estrogen 3.
Plastic-based products are considered polymers. They are chemical compounds essentially tied to overarching structure bringing them together. Research shows all polymers are susceptible to leaching, meaning they will jump from polymer to polymer like lice to hair follicles. That means estrogen-mimicking plastics can leach into the water in our system and become part of our gut biome.
Even more scarily, even polymers without any extra inorganic additives display this quality.
As stated in a the study,
“Our data show that most monomers and additives that are used to make many commercially available plastic items exhibit EA (estrogenic activity). Even when a “barefoot” polymer (no additives) such as PE or polyvinyl chloride does not exhibit EA, commercial resins and products from these polymers often release chemicals (almost certainly additives) having EA 3.”– Environ Health Prescpect
As we mentioned, BPA gets the dubious honor of being a plastic to watch out for for those wondering how to improve gut health naturally. However, as that quote suggests, there is always more than meets the eye with plastics. That sentiment rings true for BPA-free products as well. Let’s look at the types of plastic ingestion by humans and why they’re all so detrimental to our gut biome.
Types of Plastic Ingestion by Humans
With the rise of the industrial revolution, many companies have sought to transform the way we live our lives. We’ve found some to-go container plastics are more durable in transit than others. While others have a thicker consistency that lends itself to be the perfect bowl for snacks around the poolside. Whereas, some plastics are easily pliable are perfect for wrapping sandwiches in a deli.
As you can see, plastic is everywhere. So, let’s take a look at some that you should keep a close eye out for.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA has been used in manufacturing goods since the 1960s. At the time, we didn’t know the long-term ramifications of these products. Today, we are living them.
There are two main products that will contain BPA:
- Polycarbonate Plastics – Water Bottles, CDs, Medical Devices
- Epoxy Resins – Coating on Food Cans, Bottle Tops, Dental Sealants
From the sealants in our teeth breaking down with every chew to the sweat on our fingertips handling a CD, BPA can penetrate our system many ways. Unfortunately, research shows that adding stress to BPA and other plastics, like chewing with a dental sealant or ejecting a hot CD from the CD player in a running car, can facilitate leaching.
As the analysis on plastic ingestion by humans and the rise of estrogen levels stated,
“We found that exposure to one or more common-use stresses often increases the leaching of chemicals having EA. In fact, our data suggest that almost all commercially available plastic items would leach detectable amounts of chemicals having EA once such items are exposed to boiling water, sunlight (UV), and/or microwaving 3.”– Environ Health Prescpect
Adding stress onto organisms changes its genetic makeup. In the case of plastics, these alterations cause the estrogen-mimicking characteristics proving a threat to the future of humanity.
The Dangers of BPA-Free Plastic Ingestion by Humans
BPA-free is a movement that has swept those who are trying to follow a healthy gut diet plan. Unfortunately, many are grossly misinformed about what BPA-free means. Being void of BPA is ideal, but swapping it out for another estrogen-mimicking product is not the answer your gut biome is looking for.
The analysis we keep reverting to was quick to point out,
“In response to market and regulatory pressures, BPA-free PET or PETG resins and products have recently been introduced as replacements for PC resins. However, all such replacement resins and products tested to date release chemicals having EA (measured as %RME2), sometimes having more EA than BPA-containing PC resins or products, especially when stressed by UV light 3.”– Environ Health Prescpect
Companies take advantage of the lack of news coverage on the dangers of plastic ingestion by humans. So, by changing the material name, they can cash in on those who are wishing to follow a healthy gut diet plan, rebuild gut flora, and are trying to learn how to get rid of bad bacteria in the gut.
Luckily for you, Ombre is on our side. Here are BPA-free plastics that may be destroying your gut health.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
PET is one of the prominent BPA-free plastics. It also was a huge cause for concern in the quote mentioned above. What makes PETE so scary, is you don’t know how dangerous it is going to be. Some PET products are created with an element know as Antimony (Sb).
While studies find that the levels of antimony leached into water are not dangerous, it is noted that too much exposure may lead to “acute and chronic health effects 4.”
These concerns are further exasperated when bottled water is heated with a microwave. As one report summed up,
“Summertime temperatures inside of cars, garages, and enclosed storage areas can exceed 65 degrees C in Arizona, and thus could promote antimony leaching from PET bottled waters. Microwave digestion revealed that the PET plastic used by one brand contained 213+/-35 mgSb/kg plastic; leaching of all the antimony from this plastic into 0.5L of water in a bottle could result in an antimony concentration of 376 ppb 4.”– Water Res
BPA-free plastics like PET and PETE are lightweight and easily portable. That’s why they’re used in:
PET and PETE aren’t the only BPA-free plastics that are causing gastrointestinal distress. Let’s take a look at some lesser-known and prevalent estrogen-mimicking plastics.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
This a more durable plastic that is used to protect food or create toys. Many companies herald HDPE has heat-resistant, which would make it harder for estrogen-mimicking microbes to leach onto new hosts. However, that doesn’t mean HDPE doesn’t transfer compounds.
Phthalates are used to create HDPE. They give these products a big of flexibility. That way, you can easily seal a package of Goldfish by rolling it up and not worry about the phthalates transferring from the silver lining of the package onto the deliciously salty crackers.
Unfortunately, scientists confirm that while heat doesn’t cause the transfer, other factors do. A study looked at the presence of two prominent phthalates–diethyl phthalate (DEP) and diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP).
“The highest concentrations of diethyl phthalate (DEP) and diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP) were found in PET and HDPE bottles, respectively. Results of analyses before and after storage indicate that under some storage conditions, the concentrations of DEP, DEHP and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) increased in acidic liquids 5.”– Food Technol Biotechnol
Typically, you will find HDPE used to create:
As you noticed, many children items are crafted using HDPE. That makes this one of the most common plastic ingestion by humans under the age of six.
These statistics raise some concerns, as explained by the Center for Diseases Control (CDC),
“In the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals (Fourth Report), CDC scientists measured 13 phthalate metabolites in the urine of 2,636 or more participants aged six years and older who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during 2003–2004 6.”– Center for Diseases Control (CDC)
This analysis is alarming because they suggest that children are being exposed to hormone disruptions during a critical period of formation.
Polyvinyl Chloride (V or PVC)
We already discussed phthalates and PVC has plenty. However, research found an even more startling discovery about V. PVC may leach carcinogens into the gut biome.
One study stated,
“Unfortunately, VC is a well-established animal and human carcinogen. It is most strongly associated with liver cancer, in particular the rare, sentinel neoplasm of liver angiosarcoma (LAS), a malignant tumor of the endothelial cells of the liver. However, VC has also been identified as a cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the corresponding malignant tumor of the parenchymal cells of the liver 7.– J Carcinog
PVCs are especially susceptible to alteration when heated or put into a dishwasher. Be careful when purchasing the following items:
- Teething Rings
- Saran Wrap
- Shower Curtains
Essentially, keep an eye out for durable plastic that has a little give so it can manipulated.
The BPA-free plastic is known to the world over as Styrofoam. Not only is this not biodegradable, but can have a horrible impact on the gut biome as well.
As the name implies, polystyrene contains styrene. While styrene doesn’t disrupt the endocrine system on the level of some long-term BPA-free plastic ingestion by humans, there are still some cause for concerns.
One analysis stated,
“There has been little public concern over its widespread use, despite the fact that styrene (dimers and trimers) is another suspected preliminary EDC (Illinois EPA 1997) and a possible human carcinogen that has been classified as a Group 2B compound (IARC 2011). The estrogenic effects of styrene oligomers using in E‐SCREEN and estrogen receptor (ER) binding assay have been reported 8.”– Wiley Online
While PS doesn’t seem to have as a negative effect as some other BPA-free products, some cities such as Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California have already placed a ban on this product.
Polycarbonate (PC), Polylactic Acid (PLA), or Other
Other plastics are just as scary as the ones we’ve listed. That’s because we are left asking, “What is other?” If you see “other” listed as a package source, assume it’s either PC or PLA. Both are completely different and may compromise the gut biome in their own unique way.
PC and The Gut Biome
While not BPA, PC is derived from this harmful plastic. Therefore, it has many of the same endocrine-disrupting characteristics BPA does.
PC is durable and can be found in the following products:
While PC comes from BPA, the other “Other” is made from an utterly different disruptor.
PLA and Gut Biome
PLA is a biodegradable plastic, but this comes at a cost. That’s because PLA is made from genetically-modified corn 9. This news is great for landfills, not so much for the gut biome.
What makes this type of plastic ingestion by humans so dangerous, is how GMOs interact on a molecular levels. While they might not spur cancerous growths (that we know of yet), we do know it alters the microbes in soil.
One meta-analysis pointed out 20 studies where GMOs altered the microorganisms in soil drastically, with moderate significance, and little disruption 11. While those results are on all sides of the spectrum, it shows that each microorganism is unique and some can be harmed by PLA worse than others.
The analysis further stated,
“In this study, a comparative analysis of the bacterial and archaeal communities found in the rhizosphere of genetically modified (GM) versus wild-type (WT) poplar was conducted on trees at different growth stages (i.e., the rhizospheres of 1.5-, 2.5-, and 3-year-old poplars) that were cultivated on contaminated soils together with nonplanted control soil. Based on the results of DNA pyrosequencing, poplar type and growth stages were associated with directional changes in the structure of the microbial community. The rate of change was faster in GM poplars than in WT poplars 10.”– American Society for Microbiology
You can find PLA used in:
- Yogurt Containers
- Produce Packaging
While a step in the right direction, GMO corn is still not the answer. Messing with microbes isn’t the answer for how to improve gut health naturally. You want to foster beneficial bacteria, rebuild gut flora, and destroy harmful stomach bacteria. Let’s discuss alternatives to plastic ingestion by humans, shall we?
Fixing Poor Gut Health Caused By Plastic Ingestion by Humans
We live in a plastic world. For the sake of your gut biome, escape this reality. Ditch the plastic Tupperware. Get glass Pyrex containers. Stop buying disposable goods like plates and cups. Opt for reliable bottles made of glass or stainless steel. These little changes in your routine will make a big difference for your gut biome.
Sure, you might feel useless against the potato chip packages and how we get our fruit in the grocery stores. So, you need to help your gut biome get a fighting chance. Accomplish this with microbiome testing.
Microbiome Testing for Plastic Ingestion by Humans
Since plastic ingestion by humans alters gut bacteria, figuring out how to improve gut health naturally starts with figuring out which stomach bacteria you have. With Ombre, we send you everything you need to complete microbiome testing to your door.
Mail in your microbiome test sample and our specialists will analyze the intestinal flora in your system. We can pinpoint the harmful bacteria you want to get rid of and which probiotic beneficial bacteria your body needs.From there, we recommend strain-specific probiotics to help bring balance back to your gut biome. Start reversing the damage caused by plastic ingestion by humans today with Ombre.
- 1 McKie, Robin. “The Infertility Crisis Is beyond Doubt. Now Scientists Must Find the Cause.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/29/infertility-crisis-sperm-counts-halved.
- 2 “How Common Is Infertility?” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/common.
- 3 Yang, C. Z., Yaniger, S. I., Jordan, V. C., Klein, D. J., & Bittner, G. D. (2011). Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved. Environmental health perspectives, 119(7), 989–996. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220.
- 4 Westerhoff, Paul, et al. “Antimony Leaching from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Plastic Used for Bottled Drinking Water.” Water Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17707454.
- 5 Rastkari, N., Zare Jeddi, M., Yunesian, M., & Ahmadkhaniha, R. (2017). The Effect of Storage Time, Temperature and Type of Packaging on the Release of Phthalate Esters into PackedAcidic Liquids. Food technology and biotechnology, 55(4), 562–569. doi:10.17113/ftb.55.04.17.5128.
- 6 Westerhoff, Paul, et al. “Antimony Leaching from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Plastic Used for Bottled Drinking Water.” Water Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17707454.
- 7 Toxicological Profile for Vinyl Chlorid. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2006. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
- 8 Bang, Du Yeon, et al. “Human Risk Assessment of Endocrine‐Disrupting Chemicals Derived from Plastic Food Containers.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 24 Aug. 2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2012.00197.x.
- 9 Jamshidian, Majid, et al. “Poly‐Lactic Acid: Production, Applications, Nanocomposites, and Release Studies.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 26 Aug. 2010, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2010.00126.x.
- 10 Hur, Moonsuk, et al. “Effect of Genetically Modified Poplars on Soil Microbial Communities during the Phytoremediation of Waste Mine Tailings.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology, American Society for Microbiology, 1 Nov. 2011, aem.asm.org/content/77/21/7611#ref-2.