Microplastics increase likelihood of heart attack or stroke by 4.5x

Some individuals many ingest an amount of microplastics comparable to the size of a credit card each week.  These plastic particles, under five millimetres in diameter, can endure for hundreds to thousands of years in the environment and can be found in the air, food and water we consume.

Dive Deeper

Analysing over 200 individuals undergoing surgery, researchers have identified a significant correlation between microplastics and serious health issues.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that nearly 60% had microplastics or smaller nano plastics in a major artery, with these patients being 4.5 times more likely to suffer from heart attacks, strokes, or death within approximately 34 months post-surgery compared to those without arterial plastics. The findings open up research avenues into the potential risks posed by micro- and nano plastic pollution, which is pervasive in our environment (Nature).




Why does this matter? Microplastics, categorised as plastic particles under 5 millimetres in diameter, can endure for hundreds to thousands of years in the environment.

These tiny pollutants have permeated the air we breathe, the food we consume, and the water we drink. It’s estimated that some individuals may ingest an amount of microplastics comparable to the size of a credit card each week.

Controlling microplastic pollution is one of the key challenges of our time, but progress has been slow so far. The extent of microplastic pollution cannot be overstated.

Last year, contestants participating in The Ocean Race found microplastics in every water sample taken along its 32,000 nautical mile course. This includes Nemo Point, the most remote location on Earth at 1,670 miles from the nearest shoreline, where 320 microplastics were found per cubic metre of seawater.

Research is accumulating on the implications of microplastics on both wildlife and human health, yet the overarching scientific consensus on the issue is still forming and remains uncertain.

Giuseppe Paolisso and his team at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli studied the build-up of microplastics in arterial plaques in 257 people undergoing surgery to lower stroke risk. Microplastics were detected in the plaques of 150 patients, with the majority of particles identified as polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride.

The study shows a correlation between microplastics and negative health impacts. However, the causes of the build-up and its prevalence in the general population require further research, particularly considering that 40% of the subjects showed no microplastics despite widespread pollution.

Other recent studies have revealed that microplastics can compromise human white blood cell function, reducing the body’s defence against pathogens, and potentially impacting immune health and tissue integrity.

Additionally, microplastics have been found to harbour bacteria and enter the marine food chain, ultimately affecting the gut biomes of seabirds. This raises concerns about the potential escalation of microplastic ingestion by humans due to bioaccumulation through the food chain.

Global action on rampant plastic pollution has been slow. In 2022, 175 nations signed a legally binding treaty on plastics seeking to combat emissions and pollution associated with the material’s production, use and disposal.

At the next negotiating session, the INC-4 in Ottowa, Canada, a revised draft will be up for discussion, with the treaty expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

While international policy develops at a modest pace, the private sector is exploring innovative solutions to a worsening crisis.  AION, for example, helps customers transform their plastic waste problems into valuable solutions.

AOIN’s team of experts conduct in-depth analysis of customers’ plastic product value chains, offering a roadmap to minimise virgin plastic use, integrate recycled materials, and prevent plastic waste generation.

At the other end of the plastic lifecycle, Bureo transforms discarded fishing nets into valuable recycled raw materials. To date, Bureo has collected and recycled more than 4.5 million kg of nets, operating collection programmes in six countries. Their innovative approach has caught the attention of leading brands including Patagonia, Toyota, and Trek.