Microscopic Plastics May Increase Stroke, Heart Attack Risk

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climatic desk collaboration.

Doctors have warned of the potentially deadly effects of plastic pollution after finding a substantially increased risk of stroke, heart attack and premature death in people whose blood vessels were contaminated with microscopic plastics.

Researchers in Naples, Italy, examined fatty plaques taken from the blood vessels of patients with arterial disease and found that more than half had deposits contaminated with small particles of polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Those whose plates contained microplastics or nanoplastics were almost five times more likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack or death from any cause over the next 34 months, compared to those whose plates were free of plastic contamination.

The findings do not prove that plastic particles cause strokes and heart attacks (people who are more exposed to pollution may be at higher risk for other reasons), but animal research and human cells suggests that particles may be to blame.

“Our data will have a dramatic impact on cardiovascular health, if confirmed, because we are defenseless against plastic pollution,” said Dr. Raffaele Marfella, first author of the study at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Naples. “The only defense we have today is prevention by reducing plastic production.”

Because plastic pollution is ubiquitous, reaching the entire planetMarfella said that even if society were successful in the enormous task of reducing plastic pollution, the health benefits from the cleanup would not be seen for years.

Doctors embarked on the research after noticing an increase in strokes and heart attacks in patients who would normally be considered low risk. Marfella and her colleagues wondered whether plastic pollution could be involved in damaging people’s blood vessels by causing inflammation.

writing in the New England Journal of MedicineThe doctors describe how they analyzed fatty plaques taken from 304 patients with atherosclerosis affecting the carotid arteries. The carotid arteries are the main blood vessels that supply blood to the neck, face, and brain. The disease causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which substantially increases the risk of having a stroke. The plaques can be removed through a procedure called carotid endarterectomy.

Researchers in Italy examined fatty plaques taken from the blood vessels of patients with arterial disease and found that more than half had deposits contaminated with small particles of plastic.

Laboratory tests performed on the removed plates revealed polyethylene in 150 patients and polyvinyl chloride in 31, in addition to signs of inflammation. Examining them with an electron microscope, the researchers detected irregular foreign particles in the fat deposits, most less than a thousandth of a millimeter wide.

Doctors followed 257 of the patients for an average of 34 months after their carotid plaques were removed. Those who had plastic particles on their plates were 4.5 times more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack, or die from any cause, than those whose plates were free of plastic contamination.

Marfella said the discovery of plastics in the plates was “surprising” and the possible effect on cardiovascular health was “concerning”. The findings may explain what doctors call “residual cardiovascular risk,” he said, where 20 to 30 percent of patients who have been treated for common risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, continue to suffer heart attacks. and strokes. .

More work is needed to confirm whether plastic pollution plays a role in strokes and heart attacks, but Marfella called for greater awareness of the potential threat.

“People must become aware of the risks we run with our lifestyle,” he said. “I hope that the alarm message of our study raises awareness among citizens, especially governments, so that they finally become aware of the importance of the health of our planet. To put it in a slogan that can unite the need for health for humans and the planet, plastic-free is healthy for the heart and the Earth.”

Holly Shiels, professor of integrative physiology at the University of Manchester, said the impact of micro- and nanoplastics on plaque formation and coronary heart disease needed more attention. “It is conceivable that microplastics and nanoplastics, and the toxins they contain, could trigger events that lead to the development of atherosclerosis,” she said.

Leave a Comment