Home » Microplastics also in the arteries, risks of heart attack and stroke: the study

Microplastics also in the arteries, risks of heart attack and stroke: the study

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Microplastics also in the arteries, risks of heart attack and stroke: the study

Micro- and nanoplastics are truly ubiquitous. They have already been found in several human organs and tissues, including the placenta, breast milk, liver and lung, and heart tissues. And for the first time they have even been identified in atherosclerotic plaques, fatty deposits in the arteries, dangerous for the heart. This was revealed by an Italian study which provides unprecedented proof of their danger. In fact, the data collected shows that atherosclerotic plaques ‘from pollution’ are also more inflamed than normal, therefore more friable and exposed to the risk of rupture, doubling the risk of heart attacks, strokes and mortality compared to atherosclerotic plaques that are not filled with plastic.

I study

The large study, coordinated by researchers from the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli and today published in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’, proves how atherosclerotic plaques often contain micro and nanoplastics based on polyethylene (Pe, detected in 58.4% of cases) or polyvinyl chloride (or PVC, identified in 12.5% ​​of cases), two of the most widely consumed plastic compounds in the world, used to make products ranging from containers to coatings, from plasticized films to building materials. The investigation was conducted on 257 patients over 65 years old who underwent endarterectomy for asymptomatic carotid stenosis, a surgical procedure during which atherosclerotic plaques were removed, then analyzed with the electronic microscope in order to detect the possible presence of micro and nanoplastics , i.e. plastic particles with a diameter respectively less than 5 millimeters or 1 micron (0.001 millimetres).

“The analysis demonstrated the presence of Pe particles at measurable levels (about 20 micrograms per milligram of plaque) in 58.4% of patients and of PVC particles (on average 5 micrograms per milligram of plaque) in 12.5 % – underlines Giuseppe Paolisso, coordinator of the study and professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli – All the participants were followed for approximately 34 months and it was observed in particular that in those who had plaques ‘polluted’ by plastics the risk of heart attacks, strokes or mortality from all causes was at least doubled, regardless of other cardio-cerebrovascular risk factors such as age, sex, smoking, body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar values ​​or previous cardiovascular events The data also shows a significant local increase in inflammatory markers in the presence of micro- and nanoplastics.”

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“The pro-inflammatory effect could be one of the reasons why micro and nanoplastics lead to greater instability of the plaques and therefore a greater risk of them breaking, giving rise to thrombi and thus causing heart attacks or strokes – explains Raffaele Marfella, creator of the study and full professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli – Data collected in vitro and in experimental animals have already shown that micro and nanoplastics can promote oxidative stress and inflammation in the cells of the endothelium covering the blood vessels, but also which can alter the heart rhythm and contribute to the development of fibrosis and anomalies in heart function: these results show for the first time in humans a correlation between the presence of micro- and nanoplastics and a greater cardiovascular risk”.

Where microplastics are found

After all, these are very widespread substances. Pe is one of the most used plastics in the world, so much so that it constitutes 40% of the total volume of global plastic production: it is widely used to make containers, objects and coatings. PVC is equally widespread and is one of the most versatile plastic materials, because it can be shaped and hot molded, but also melted to spread fabrics and surfaces: it is found in countless products, from coatings to films, from tubes to vinyl records . Both can give rise to microscopic plastic particles that are released into the environment and can then be absorbed. According to the latest Future Brief report from the European Commission, on average an adult inhales or ingests 39,000 to 52,000 plastic particles per year, equal to 5 grams of plastic per week, the equivalent of a credit card.

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“Our study did not investigate the origin of the micro and nanoplastics detected in atherosclerotic plaques – specifies Antonio Ceriello, of the Irccs Multimedica in Milan -, given the widespread diffusion of Pe and PVC, attributing their source to humans is almost impossible. It is mainly the smallest plastic particles that can penetrate deeply into the tissues, but numerous studies have also found larger ones and in detectable quantities in many human organs: particles with a diameter of up to 10 microns have been found in placenta, up to 15 microns in breast milk and urine, up to 30 microns in the liver, up to 88 microns in the lungs, with a diameter greater than 0.7 microns in the blood.Although our data do not establish a causal relationship- effect, however they suggest that micro and nanoplastics could constitute a new, important cardiovascular risk factor – he warns – to be taken into account”. “The quality of this study – comments the rector of the Luigi Vanvitelli University, Gianfranco Nicoletti – demonstrates once again how much our university has grown in recent years and what great development potential it has in the near future”.

Epidemiologist Landrigan: “Revolutionary discovery”

The Italian study on the damage of micro and nanoplastics to the heart is, writes epidemiologist Philip J. Landrigan, founder and director of the Global Public Health Program of Boston College and of the Global Pollution Observatory, “a revolutionary discovery that raises a series of questions urgent: can exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics be considered a new cardiovascular risk factor? Which organs other than the heart may be at risk? How can we reduce exposure?”. “The first step is to recognize that the low cost and convenience of plastic are deceptive – he underlines – and that, in fact, they hide great harms, such as the contribution of plastic to the outcomes associated with atherosclerotic plaque. We must encourage our patients to reduce the use of plastic, particularly unnecessary single-use items, and support the United Nations Global Plastics Treaty to mandate a global cap on plastic production. As with climate change, solving the problems associated with plastic will require a transition on large scale from fossil carbon.”

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