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Unseen Invaders: Microplastics in Our Bodies

Medically reviewed by 
Jessica Christie
Unseen Invaders: Microplastics in Our Bodies

In the intimate world of our homes, our beloved dogs share more than just our company—they're also exposed to the same environmental pollutants, including microplastics. By examining the presence of microplastics and their potential effects on the reproductive systems of dogs, researchers can gain valuable insights that may reveal significant parallels to human health.

A recent observational and analytical study published in ToxSci has shed light on this invisible invasion, revealing concerning details about their presence and impact, and advocating for better environmental protections.


The Study At A Glance

Researchers aimed to detect and measure microplastics in the testes of dogs and humans using a method called Pyrolysis-Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (Py-GC/MS). This technique heats samples to break them down and then identifies the tiny plastic particles.

They collected testicular tissues from 47 dogs during routine neutering surgeries at local veterinary clinics in New Mexico. The dogs ranged in age from 1 to 10 years and included various breeds for a diverse sample. Additionally, they obtained 23 human testis samples from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, with donors aged between 16 and 88 years. 

These human samples were part of routinely collected specimens from 2016. The researchers carefully analyzed these samples to identify the types and amounts of microplastics present. By comparing the results from dogs and humans, they could assess how widespread and significant microplastic contamination is in living organisms.

Key Findings

The key findings of this study are:

  • Presence of Microplastics: Microplastics were found in every sample of testes from both dogs and humans.
  • Types of Plastics: The study detected various types of plastics, including PE (polyethylene), PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and PET (polyethylene terephthalate).
  • Levels of Microplastics: The levels of microplastics varied among the samples. Human testes had nearly three times more total microplastic levels than canine tissues.
  • Species Comparison: Both dogs and humans exhibited similar proportions of major polymer types, with PE being the most common.
  • Correlation with Organ Weights: There was a negative correlation between specific polymers like PVC and PET and the normalized weight of the testes, suggesting that higher microplastic levels may be associated with lower organ weights.

The Significance Of These Findings

These findings are important because they highlight the extensive contamination of microplastics, which raises several major concerns, including:

  • Reproductive Health: The study found that microplastics are linked to lower sperm counts and smaller reproductive organs. This suggests that these particles could harm fertility and overall reproductive health, affecting future generations.
  • Impact on Organ Size: Higher levels of certain plastics, like PVC and PET, were associated with smaller testes in both dogs and humans, indicating a potential negative effect on organ development.
  • Health Risks: A 2024 study showed that microplastics are not just in our reproductive organs; they can be found throughout our bodies. Over time, these tiny particles can build up and potentially harm various aspects of our health. This is because the chemicals in microplastics can be toxic and may interfere with normal cellular functions. For example, they can disrupt our immune system, induce carcinogenesis, interfere with development, and even damage tissues like the brain and tissues of the digestive system.
  • Environmental Impact: A 2022 study showed that the presence of microplastics in our bodies reflects the broader issue of environmental pollution. These particles come from everyday items like plastic bags, bottles, and synthetic clothing, which break down and enter our ecosystems.
  • Urgent Need for Action: Understanding these findings can help us make better choices to protect our health and the environment. Reducing plastic use, supporting recycling efforts, and advocating for stricter regulations on plastic production are crucial steps we can take to address this issue.

Limitations of the Study

  • Limited Sample Size: The study examined a small number of dogs (47) and humans (23), which might not fully represent the larger population.
  • Geographic Limitation: Samples were only taken from New Mexico, so the findings might not be applicable everywhere.
  • Differences between Species used: Comparing dogs to humans has its challenges because their bodies work differently, which might affect the results.
  • Older Samples: The human samples were from 2016, which means they might not reflect the current levels of microplastics.
  • Unknown Exposure Sources: The study didn't identify where the microplastics came from, making it difficult to know the sources of contamination.
  • Variety Of Plastics And Their Effects: While various plastics were found, the study didn't investigate how different types of plastics might impact health in different ways.
  • Short-Term Perspective: The research focused on the immediate presence of microplastics, not on the potential long-term health effects.
  • Other Influencing Factors: The study didn't account for all possible factors like diet and lifestyle, which could affect the amount of microplastics in the samples.

Sources Of Microplastics 

  • Cosmetics: Many beauty products, such as exfoliating scrubs and toothpaste, contain tiny plastic beads.
  • Synthetic Clothing: Clothes made from materials like polyester shed small plastic fibers when washed.
  • Industrial Processes: Factories and manufacturing plants often release microplastics into the environment during production.
  • Air: Microplastics can become airborne and be inhaled, coming from dust and pollution.
  • Plastic Waste: As plastic items break down, they create smaller plastic particles that can end up in soil and water bodies.
  • Artificial Turfs: Sports fields with artificial turf can shed small plastic particles, which get carried away by wind or rain. 
  • Drinking Water: Microplastics can be found in both tap and bottled water, as they can enter water supplies from various sources. They can also be found in bodies of water.
  • Plastic Teabags: Some teabags are made from plastic and can release microplastics into your tea when steeped in hot water.

Tips On How To Reduce Personal Microplastic Exposure

  • Use Less Plastic: Avoid single-use plastic items like straws, bags, and bottles.
  • Choose Natural Materials: Opt for clothing and products made from natural fibers like cotton or wool instead of synthetic materials.
  • Filter Tap Water: Use a water filter to reduce microplastics in your drinking water.
  • Avoid Plastic-Packaged Food: Choose fresh, unpackaged food whenever possible.
  • Be Careful with Cosmetics: Check labels and avoid products with "polyethylene" or "polypropylene" ingredients.
  • Support Environmental Initiatives: Participate in or support efforts aimed at reducing plastic waste and promoting recycling.


Key Takeaways

  • The study revealed the widespread contamination of these tiny particles in our environment and bodies.
  • Key findings indicate that microplastics are linked to lower sperm counts and smaller reproductive organs, with humans showing nearly three times more microplastics than dogs.
  • To address this issue, it is important to raise awareness about microplastic sources, support policies to reduce plastic use and improve waste management, and help individuals minimize exposure by reducing plastic use and supporting recycling efforts.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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