Prevent IBS by Avoiding Microplastics

Inflammatory bowel disease is one of my patients’ most debilitating disorders.

Symptoms of this chronic condition include abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, unwanted weight loss, and severe fatigue.

Unfortunately, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) appears to be a growing problem. Research presented at United European Gastroenterology Week revealed that there could be three times as many people living with IBD than previously thought.1

Although almost 7 million people suffer from IBD globally, the disease remains mysterious. For as long as I can remember, identifying the actual cause of IBD has left scientists completely stumped.

However, thanks to a new study, this could be about to change.

In a small-scale study, a team of researchers found that individuals with IBD had larger amounts of microplastics in their stools. The results were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.2

Now, I don’t need to tell you that plastic is just about everywhere. But the presence of microplastics is even more widespread than you might think.

As the name implies, microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic. Some are so small that we can’t see them without a microscope. They’re usually made of larger pieces of plastic that break apart over time – sometimes to the point where they almost look like dust.

Scientists estimate that the average American consumes enough microplastics to put a credit card together every single week. That amounts to 74,000 particles of microplastic a year.3

Prevent IBS by avoiding microbeads

While it’s impossible to remove microplastics from the environment – after all, they are everywhere – there are things you can do to reduce your exposure.

Here are a couple of tricks I share with my patients.

    1. Choose seafood wisely. Microplastics are so invasive they’re found on every beach in the world, as well as the polar ice caps and deep-sea sediment. Fish ingest them – and they make their way into our food supply. In a shocking recent study, 74% of fish fillets tested contained microplastics.4 Stay away from fish at the top of the food chain. This includes tuna, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. Good choices are smaller fish lower down on the food chain, like herring, sardines, halibut, and haddock. Oceans with the least plastic contamination are the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. Fish from these regions include mullet, Spanish mackerel, red snapper, grouper, and spotted sea trout.
    2. Use a laundry filter: Nearly 65% of today’s clothing contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and polyamide. In fact, these fabrics are one of the biggest sources of microplastic pollution on the planet. A single load of laundry can release a million microplastic fibers into the environment. But you can install a washing machine filter that dramatically reduces a large portion of these from getting into your system. In one study, filters were able to eliminate almost 80% of plastics.5 Alternatively, you can also wash your clothes on a lower setting, wash them by hand, or invest in clothing made with less synthetic material.
    3. Use fewer disposable products: Single-use products such as plastic cups, plasticware, and even straws and takeout containers all contribute to microplastic buildup. By using less – or even none of these – you can drastically reduce your exposure. Simple ways to start include buying a steel reusable water bottle, using tote bags instead of single-use grocery bags, and shopping locally instead of having items delivered.
    4. Use fewer products with microbeads: Most brands of toothpaste, facial scrubs, and other cosmetic products contain trace amounts of microplastics – which build up over time. These beads can easily pass through filtration systems and enter our rivers, lakes, and oceans. From there, they get into everything else we eat, drink, or use. To avoid microbeads, check product ingredient lists. Avoid polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), and nylon. Instead, choose natural, biodegradable ingredients, like grains, ground nut shells, and salt and sugar crystals.

 

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

 


References:

1. “UEG Week: IBD prevalence three times higher than previous estimates and expected to rise further,  new study reveals.” https://ueg.eu/a/31#:~:text=October%2021%2C%202019,at%20UEG%20Week%20Barcelona%20201. Accessed on May 31, 2022.
2. Yan Z, et al. “Analysis of microplastics in human feces reveals a correlation between fecal microplastics and inflammatory bowel disease status.” Environ Sci Technol. 2022;56(1):414-421
3. Oosthoek S. “Americans consume some 70,000 microplastic particles a year.” ScienceNewsforStudent.com. Accessed May 31, 2022.
4. McIlwraith H. “I Eat Fish, Am I Eating Microplastics?” Ocean Conservancy. 2021.
5. Napper, et al. “The efficiency of devices intended to reduce microfibre release during clothes washing.” Sci Total Environ. 2020 Oct 10;738:140412.