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Digestive system: Can our bodies naturally get rid of plastics we ingest?

Every day, we eat, drink and breathe microplastics. These plastic particles are found in seafood, salt, honey, beer, and water, among other sources. Our consumption of microplastics has recently been confirmed by research that found microplastics in the faeces of people from Europe, Russia, and Japan. The question now is whether the microplastics in food that we regularly ingest completely leave our body through the digestive system, or whether a percentage of these remain in our bodies? If these microplastics do in fact remain, could our digestive system be harmed? Or worse, could microplastics migrate from the intestines to other parts of our bodies?

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The ongoing investigations
To answer these questions about plastic toxicity, four research projects were started in March 2019 at four universities and research institutes, each with a unique research question:

  • Are the additives found in plastic, such as plasticizers, released into our stomachs and intestines, and do they cause damage once there? Does this also apply to environmental pollutants that adhere to plastics? (Dr. ir. Hans Bouwmeester – WUR)
  • Can plastic particles that we ingest through the consumption of shellfish (blood cockle) spread through our body? If so, is the type, size, and shape of the plastic a factor? (Dr. Frank van Belleghem – OU)
  • What are the consequences of systematic exposure to different types of microplastics for our intestines? Does this exposure lead to, for example, inflammation? (Dr. Evita van de Steeg – TNO)
  • Is our gut immune system negatively affected as a result of our ingestion of microplastics? Can microplastics move across the gut barrier into the blood? (Dr. Joost Smit – UU)

Results of this research are expected in the fall of 2020. Stay tuned!

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Field of research The digestive system
Research period April 2019 – Fall 2020
Institutes involved Wageningen University (WUR)
Open University (OU)
the Dutch Institute for Applied Scientific Research (TNO)
University Utrecht (UU)
Researchers involved Dr. ir. Hans Bouwmeester (WUR)
Dr. Frank van Belleghem (OU)
Dr. Evita van de Steeg (TNO)
Dr. Joost Smit (UU)