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Nanoplastics are linked to heart attacks and strokes, new study finds

Scientists test samples of meat and plant protein products to check for microplastic presence  (Ocean Conservatory/Madeleine Milne)
Scientists test samples of meat and plant protein products to check for microplastic presence (Ocean Conservatory/Madeleine Milne)

People with nanoplastics inside their bodies are twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die from any cause over the next three years than people without them, say scientists.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine explained how micro- and nanoplastics are “emerging” as a potential risk factor when it comes to cardiovascular disease.

Out of a study of more than 200 people, 60 per cent had tiny pieces of plastic in their carotid arteries, which carry blood to the brain on either side of the neck.

Those with the contaminants were 4.5 times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die within 34 months of the surgery, researchers found.

“Our data must be confirmed by other studies and on larger populations,” lead author Professor Raffaele Marfella told CNN.

“However, our study convincingly highlights the presence of plastics and their association with cardiovascular events in a representative population affected by atherosclerosis.”

The plastics come from pollution which makes its way into the food chain and are so small that they can only be seen with specialised microscopes.

Other studies in recent months have shown that many meat products and bottled water are full of micro- or nanoplastics.

In one such study, one litre of water in a plastic bottle contained an average of 240,000 particles.

“Although we do not know what other exposures may have contributed to the adverse outcomes among patients in this study, the finding of microplastics and nanoplastics in plaque tissue is itself a breakthrough discovery that raises a series of urgent questions,” Paediatrician Dr Philip Landrigan, professor of biology at Boston College, said in an accompanying editorial to this latest paper.

“Should exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics be considered a cardiovascular risk factor? What organs in addition to the heart may be at risk? How can we reduce exposure?”

Researchers said the most common plastic they found inside patients was polyethylene, which is used in plastic bags and food packaging, as well as polyvinyl, which is known as PVC or vinyl.

A scientist not involved in the study, Robert Brook, told Nature that he had questions about the 40 per cent found without microplastics in their blood samples, as plastic is all around us.

Those who did have the microplastics in their blood samples were younger, more likely to be male, more likely to smoke, and more likely to have diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

It also is not clear what the status might be of the wider population when those chosen for the study required surgery,

“This will be the launching pad for further studies across the world to corroborate, extend and delve into the degree of the risk that micro- and nanoplastics pose,” Mr Brook said.