A new study has shown that microplastics are able to cross the blood-brain barrier of mice.

In recent months, we’ve reported at length about microplastics, as public awareness grows of their ubiquity and their hazardous effects. Recent studies have shown, for instance, that babies are now riddled with microplastics, and that in our homes we may be inhaling massive quantities of these microscopic particles.

This new research will only confirm fears that the microplastic menace is one of the greatest threats facing the environment, and mankind, today.

Microplastics: crossing the blood-brain barrier


In recent years, much of the focus of studies of microplastics has been on marine ecosystems, because of the sheer scale of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Marine studies have shown, for instance, that microplastics weaken the adhesive abilities of muscles, reduce the cognitive ability of hermit crabs and cause aneurysms and reproductive changes in fish. They’ve turned up in the guts of sea turtles all over the world, and been discovered in seal poo as evidence of them traveling up the food chain. 

Now, as we come to appreciate just how polluted even our home environments may be by microplastics, focus is inevitably turning to their effects on us. Research has already shown, for instance, that microplastics can alter the shape of human lung cells.

Although microplastics have recently been found in human placentas, this new research is the first to show that microplastics can cross the blood-brain barrier, which is an important defense mechanism that protects the brain from exposure to harmful chemicals.

To further our understanding of these dangers, researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology orally administered polystyrene microplastics two micrometers in size or smaller to mice over the course of seven days.

Like humans, mice have a blood-brain barrier that prevents most foreign substances, and especially solids, from entering the organ. The scientists found, though, that the microplastics were able to pass through.

Once in the brain, the scientists found that the particles built up in the microglial cells, which are essential to healthy functioning of the central nervous system, and this had a significant impact on the ability of these cells to multiply. This was because the microglial cells reacted to the plastic particles as a threat, which caused changes in their morphology and ultimately led to apoptosis – programmed cell death.

Additionally, the scientists carried out experiments on human microglial cells and also observed changes in their morphology, along with changes to the immune system via alterations to the expression of relevant genes, related antibodies and microRNAs. Just like in the mouse brains, this also induced signs of apoptosis.

“The study shows that microplastics, especially microplastics with the size of 2 micrometers or less, start to be deposited in the brain even after short-term ingestion within seven days, resulting in apoptosis, and alterations in immune responses, and inflammatory responses,” says study author Dr. Seong-Kyoon Choi.” Based on the findings of this research, we plan to conduct additional research that can further reveal the brain accumulation of microplastics and the mechanism of neurotoxicity.”

The microplastic menace: plummeting fertility

As if this new news isn’t bad enough, it’s already well known that microplastics are carriers of toxic xenoestrogens, industrial chemicals that have disastrous gender-bending effects.

These chemicals are believed to be one of the principal causes of a calamitous decline in fertility that could bring about the end of human reproduction as we know it.

By 2045, according to Professor Shanna Swan, the majority of men may no longer be able to reproduce because of the effects of harmful chemicals from a variety of common household sources. 

“We’re about 40 years behind global warming, in terms of awareness,” she says – yet the threat to human survival is just as great as, if not greater than, our concerns about greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to Swan’s projections from the available data, by 2045 the sperm count of the median man will reach zero – meaning that one half of all men will have no sperm at all, and the other half will have an amount that is barely more than zero. Functionally, all men will be infertile.

The implications should be obvious: no sperm, no babies. Such a scenario has already been dubbed ‘Spermageddon’.

But it’s not just xenoestrogens that are responsible for the precipitous decline in male fertility we’re witnessing. Swan also points to a variety of other factors that seem to be at work, including the use of contraceptives, obesity, smoking and ‘cultural shifts’, a rather vague term which would deserve further explanation.

At home we may be inhaling 100 times the amount of microplastics scientists previously thought: shock research

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A new study of microplastic pollution in the home has revealed that we may be breathing in up to 7000 microplastic particles a day, 100 times the amount the researchers predicted.

Experts say microplastic pollution now has the potential to be a health threat that ranks alongside, or is worse than, asbestos and tobacco.

The research was commissioned for the British television program Good Morning Britain, and aired on an exclusive daytime special.

Click here to read more about this shocking research

Could it be that as men behave – or are given less room to behave – in less stereotypically manly ways, they may actually become so?

There may be other biological factors at work too, she suggests, pointing to the collapse in testosterone levels in western men over the last half century. 

While a reduction in testosterone levels is a fact of life for all men as they age – after the age of 30, a man can expect to lose 1% of his natural testosterone every year for the rest of his life – this natural reduction pales in comparison with the society-wide collapse in T levels that has occurred over the second half of the twentieth and the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

Men today have considerably less T than men of the same age even a single generation ago. A 2007 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed a significant reduction in the T levels of men since the 1980s. A 60-year-old American man in 2004, for example, had 17% less testosterone than a 60-year-old American man in 1987.

While the collapse of testosterone is likely to be linked to the ubiquity of the xenoestrogenic chemicals Swan warns about, sedentary lifestyles and the consumption of phytoestrogens are also likely to be playing a large role.

All in all, it adds up to a witch’s brew of environmental, social and biological factors that are making it ever harder for men to maintain their masculinity and fulfil their biological purpose.

And this new research, showing that even our brains may not be safe from the harmful effects of microplastics, should steel us to tackle this problem head on, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Only time will tell if we have the good sense, and the courage, to do so.

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