Microplastics in Body Linked to Heart Attacks, Cancer

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters across. They come from various sources, such as food packaging, tires, clothes, cosmetics and electronics. They can degrade by weathering, friction or heat, releasing particles into the environment. These particles can be ingested or inhaled by people, and end up in different parts of the body, such as the blood, lungs, placenta and breast milk.

Microplastics and cancer risk

There is growing evidence that microplastics may pose a risk for cancer development. Several studies have found associations between microplastic exposure and cancer outcomes in humans and animals. For example:

  • A landmark study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2024 found that people who had microplastics or nanoplastics in a main artery were 4.5 times more likely to experience a heart attack, a stroke or death than those who did not.
  • A study published in Environment International in 2022 found microplastics in blood samples from 17 of 22 healthy adult volunteers in the Netherlands. The researchers suggested that these particles could cause inflammation, oxidative stress and DNA damage, which are known risk factors for cancer.
  • A study published in the Food Packaging Forum in 2023 reported that exposure to PVC microplastic dust particles increased the risk of lung cancer and liver damage in rodents. The study also found that some organic chemicals that leach from microplastics, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, had carcinogenic properties.

How microplastics cause cancer

The exact mechanisms by which microplastics cause cancer are not fully understood, but there are several possible pathways. One is that microplastics can carry a range of contaminants, such as trace metals and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), that can leach from the plastic surface once in the body. These chemicals can interfere with hormone regulation, gene expression and cell growth, leading to abnormal tissue development and tumor formation.

Another pathway is that microplastics can induce inflammation and irritation in the tissues where they accumulate. This can trigger an immune response that produces reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are molecules that can damage DNA and other cellular components. DNA damage can result in mutations that alter the normal function of genes involved in cell cycle regulation, apoptosis and DNA repair, leading to uncontrolled cell proliferation and cancer.

A third pathway is that microplastics can affect the intestinal microbiome, which is the community of microorganisms that live in the gut. The microbiome plays an important role in digestion, immunity and metabolism, and can influence cancer risk by modulating inflammation, immune response, detoxification and hormone metabolism. Microplastics can alter the composition and diversity of the microbiome, potentially disrupting its beneficial functions and promoting carcinogenesis.

How to reduce microplastic exposure

Given the potential health risks of microplastics, it is advisable to reduce exposure to these particles as much as possible. Some ways to do this include:

  • Avoiding single-use plastic products, such as bottles, bags, straws and cutlery, and opting for reusable or biodegradable alternatives.
  • Choosing natural or organic fabrics over synthetic ones, such as cotton, wool or silk over polyester or nylon.
  • Washing clothes with a filter or bag that can capture microfibers released during washing.
  • Using natural or homemade cosmetics and personal care products that do not contain microbeads or other plastic ingredients.
  • Filtering tap water or drinking bottled water from glass containers.
  • Eating fresh or minimally processed foods that are not wrapped or stored in plastic packaging.
  • Cleaning indoor spaces regularly with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter to remove dust particles that may contain microplastics.


Microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment and in our bodies. They may pose a serious threat to human health by increasing the risk of cancer through various mechanisms. More research is needed to understand the extent and severity of this problem, and to develop effective solutions to prevent and treat it. In the meantime, we can take steps to reduce our exposure to microplastics by making conscious choices about what we buy, use and consume.

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