“You’re eating a credit card’s worth of plastic a week — and it’s killing your gut”, ran the headline in the New York Post yesterday.
It seems that barely a week passes without a new study showing the harmful effects of these ubiquitous particles, but this latest piece from the Post seems to reflect growing popular awareness and alarm at the amount of exposure we’re all now getting to microplastics
Microplastics: growing mainstream alarm
The New York Post story reports on a recent Medical University of Vienna study showing that microplastic consumption is wreaking havoc on our digestive systems.
When the microscopic plastic particles make their way into our digestive systems, they trigger an immune response and inflammation.
What’s more, growing evidence suggests that microplastics may also be directly involved in triggering “chemical pathways involved in the formation of cancer”.
A study referenced by the University of Vienna researchers states that drinking the recommended daily intake of water from plastic bottles will introduce 90,000 plastic particles a year into your body. Switching to tap water will cut that exposure, but only to 40,000.
The researchers note the dreadful Catch-22 position we now occupy. On the one hand, we know that microplastics are dangerous – although just how dangerous we’re not yet entirely sure. On the other, we know that we can’t live without plastics, at least not for the moment.
Microplastics accumulate in the gonads, shocking animal research
One recent meta-study has brought together all the emerging evidence for the effects of microplastics on the reproductive systems of small mammals.
The results are unequivocal: microplastics accumulate in the reproductive organs of mammals where they cause pervasive reproductive damage.
Click here to read more about this shocking research
Microplastics: the broader context
Although the New York Post story doesn’t really offer any constructive advice about minimising your exposure, it does at least signal that the mainstream media is waking up to the dangers of microplastics.
And we should be worried. 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.
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.
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