Planet vs. Plastics
Are Microplastics Causing Upticks in Dementia?
October 17, 2023
The study of microplastics is a relatively new endeavor, making it difficult to truly quantify the amount of plastics floating around in our bodies. Nevertheless, emerging scientific research is uncovering indications of microplastics penetrating deep into our physiological systems. They have been detected within the placenta, circulating in our bloodstream, infiltrating the heart, and even breaching the blood-brain barrier, leading to repercussions still in the early stages of comprehension.
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island led by Dr. Jamie Robinson recently released a study linking microplastic ingestion and exposure with changes in mental behaviors, especially in older mice. Experiments took place over the course of 3 weeks, giving different aged mice small amounts of microplastic via a water dish. After the 3 weeks of exposure, the mice were put through a series of tests and observations in which researchers observed an increase in anxiety and a decrease in mental acuity especially in the older test subjects.
These new behaviors exhibited by the tested mice subjects are similar to those of humans with dementia. While human tests are a long way down the road, any of these signs showing up in any mammal should sound alarm bells for governments, industry, and the public at large. The study also goes on to discuss the bioaccumulation of plastics within the rat’s organ system, most notably the liver and brain.
Three weeks of exposure was enough to cause harm in mice – who knows the damage the lifetime of exposure humans go through may cause? Plastics cover everything in our lives– it wraps our food, it is used to make the clothes we wear, it makes up our playgrounds, our throwaway containers and utensils, and even our tires constantly shed plastics into the air.
We are consuming this plastic waste (unintentionally) every time we eat, breathe, and take a sip of water (yes this includes sodas, tea, and any other liquid you can drink). Plastic is unavoidable, but it has not always been this way. The petrochemical and fossil fuel industries have convinced us that plastic is necessary to function, that we need it everywhere, and that it doesn’t harm us. Studies have said differently.
The implications of this study are wide ranging and almost too terrible to contemplate. While research is still very new, there does appear to be a connection between the increase in dementia rates globally and the near doubling of plastic production over the last 20 years. Diseases like dementia can in turn lead to huge healthcare costs for the individual and for the entire nation’s medical systems. It’s another important dimension to our growing plastic problem.
How did we get to this point? Where a material we know so little about, becomes so ubiquitous and yet is possibly causing irreparable harm. Why have governments around the world and the industry itself allowed this to happen? It begs the question: what do plastic manufacturers know about microplastics and when are they going to start telling us?
While it is hard to be absolutely certain plastics are leading to increased dementia rates, it is time to recognize we should not be using any product made up of fossil fuels mixed with thousands of unregulated chemicals, designed for one-time use, and broken down into pieces small enough to penetrate the brain. It’s time to curb plastic production, currently standing globally at 380 million tons a year, and increase research into its health implications.
It is time for the public to tell their leaders and industry we need to recognize plastics as public enemy number one. Sign on to our plastics petition and demand some accountability. Right now plastics and health is not in the Treaty. Let’s change that! Let’s make sure the health implications of plastics are being addressed in the Global Plastics Treaty, and in national and local legislation. The era of excessive plastic usage must come to an end.