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Avoid This Popular Clothing Material That Is Releasing Microplastics Into Your Bloodstream Every Time It Touches Your Body

Clothing plays a major role in our lives. Not only does it help shape our personal style and identity, but it also protects us from the elements. However, the very garments meant to safeguard our bodies may, in fact, be doing us harm. Recent studies shed light on the adverse effects certain synthetic fabrics may have on our health, and the findings are alarming.

Microplastics in Our Body

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic, measuring less than 5mm in size, that have become an increasingly significant environmental concern. These particles, often invisible to the naked eye, can be found in various ecosystems, including oceans, soil, air, and even our bodies…

Scientists have discovered the presence of microplastics in a range of human biological samples, indicating that exposure to these particles has become ubiquitous. Several studies have detected microplastics in human blood, suggesting that these particles can circulate throughout our bodies.

In one study published in Environment International, researchers found plastic particles in human blood samples, highlighting the alarming extent of plastic pollution in our systems. Furthermore, microplastics have been found in various food sources, including fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

A study published in Environmental Research conducted the first assessment of diet-related risks associated with micro- and nano-plastics in the general population, raising concerns about the potential health implications of consuming contaminated food.

The Clothes You Wear: An Unexpected Culprit

Photo of Women's Clothing

When we think of the sources of microplastics in our environment, our minds usually gravitate toward oceans choked with plastic waste, bottled water, and the fish we eat. But what if one of the most intimate sources of microplastics has been hiding in plain sight – in our very own closets?

Research is unmasking the shocking reality of how our fashion choices may be impacting our health more intimately than we ever realized. Immunologist Barbro Melgert of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has revealed startling findings concerning nylon microfibers. In experiments with human tissue mimicking lung structure, Melgert observed a 67% and 50% decrease in the number and size of airways respectively. The twist? It wasn’t the fibers per se that were the culprits, but the chemicals they off-gassed.

Ironically, this isn’t brand-new information. Three decades ago, microplastics were already detected in the lung tissues of textile workers, individuals who regularly processed synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon. These workers exhibited symptoms like persistent coughing, breathlessness, and a notable decline in lung capacity.

What gives these findings renewed urgency are more recent studies, such as one by the University of Groningen in 2020. This research suggests that commonly used clothing fibers such as nylon and polyester might not just cause momentary distress but could have long-term implications, obstructing the recovery and growth of our lungs.

Understanding the Impacts of Microplastics on Human Health

Microplastics have raised increasing concerns due to their widespread presence in various ecosystems and potential risks to human health.

  • Tissue and Cellular Penetration: Due to their minuscule size, microplastics can easily penetrate human tissues and cells, leading to a variety of health complications.
  • Chronic Inflammation: Studies indicate that exposure to microplastics can result in chronic inflammation, a condition tied to numerous health challenges, including respiratory issues, cardiovascular diseases, and potential cancer risks.
  • Oxidative Stress: Microplastics can cause oxidative stress, leading to an imbalance between reactive oxygen species and antioxidants in the body. It can also result in cellular damage and heightened disease risk.
  • Food Chain Contamination: The prevalence of microplastics in our environment affects the food chain, presenting potential risks to human health. Microplastics can enter the food chain at multiple levels, from primary producers like plants and algae to apex consumers.

Keeping Microplastics Out of Your Wardrobe: Materials to Watch Out For

When curating a wardrobe that minimizes the risk of microplastic exposure, it’s crucial to understand the fabrics most commonly associated with these tiny environmental culprits. Here’s a breakdown of materials to approach with caution or potentially avoid:

  1. Polyester: One of the most widespread synthetic fibers used in clothing production, polyester releases numerous microfibers with each wash. Given its prevalent use in everything from t-shirts to outerwear, it’s a prime suspect in the microplastics issue.
  2. Nylon: Often found in sportswear, swimwear, and undergarments, nylon is another synthetic material that sheds microplastics over time, especially during washing.
  3. Acrylic: Acrylic sweaters might feel soft and wool-like, but this material can release even more microfibers than polyester or nylon during a wash cycle.
  4. Polypropylene: Commonly utilized in activewear and thermal underwear due to its moisture-wicking properties, polypropylene is a synthetic polymer that can contribute to the microplastic problem.
  5. Lycra/Spandex: Popular in stretchable garments like leggings and sports bras, this elastic fiber, while enhancing fit and flexibility, is another source of microplastic fibers.
  6. Microfiber Fabric: Ironically, while this fabric boasts of its ultra-fine synthetic fibers designed to offer softness (often in cleaning cloths and some sportswear), it’s also a significant microplastic culprit.

Natural Choices Over Synthetics: Kinds of Clothing to Buy

Swapping out synthetic materials in favor of natural fibers is not only environmentally responsible but also reduces the risk of microplastic exposure. When shopping for a more sustainable wardrobe, here are some naturally derived materials to consider:

  1. Cotton: A versatile and breathable fabric, cotton is often used in everyday wear from t-shirts to denim. Opt for organic cotton when possible, as it’s grown without harmful pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
  2. Linen: Made from the flax plant, linen is a sturdy, breathable material. It’s particularly popular for summer clothing due to its cooling properties.
  3. Silk: A luxurious material derived from silkworms, silk has been cherished for centuries for its softness and sheen. It’s a natural protein fiber, gentle on the skin, and commonly used for dresses, blouses, and undergarments.
  4. Wool: Extracted from sheep, wool is an insulating fiber that can keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s used for sweaters, suits, and coats. Merino wool, in particular, is known for its softness and is often used in high-performance athletic wear.
  5. Hemp: An eco-friendly alternative, hemp fabric is durable and resistant to UV rays and mold. The hemp plant requires minimal water, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers, making it a sustainable choice for clothing.
  6. Bamboo: Bamboo fabric is known for its soft texture and natural antibacterial properties. It’s breathable and has moisture-wicking abilities, making it ideal for activewear and undergarments.
  7. Tencel/Lyocell: Derived from wood pulp, usually from eucalyptus, spruce, or pine trees, Tencel or Lyocell is biodegradable and produced using a closed-loop process that recycles almost all the chemicals used. It offers a silky touch and is commonly used in both casual and luxury garments.
  8. Cashmere: Sourced from cashmere goats, this fabric is renowned for its softness and warmth. It’s lighter than sheep’s wool but offers superior insulation.

When looking for alternatives to synthetic fabrics, it’s essential to be mindful of the source. Even with natural materials, sustainable and ethical practices in production and harvesting can greatly reduce the environmental impact. Always check for certifications or labels that indicate the responsible sourcing and production of the garment.

Reducing Exposure and Protecting Human Health

Given the concerns surrounding microplastics and human health, it is crucial to take proactive steps to reduce exposure and mitigate the potential risks. Here are some actionable tips:

  • Opt for natural fiber clothing and bedding to minimize the shedding of microplastics from synthetic fibers.
  • Avoid using single-use plastics as much as possible and opt for reusable alternatives.
  • Use water filters certified to remove microplastics to reduce ingestion through drinking water.
  • When choosing seafood, opt for sustainably sourced options and consider the potential for microplastic contamination.

Acknowledging the Problem, Working Towards Solutions

Acknowledging the potential risks of microplastics is the first step towards finding solutions. By raising awareness, supporting further research, and advocating for changes in plastic consumption and waste management practices, individuals, communities, and governments can contribute to minimizing the impact of microplastics on human health. With concerted efforts, a cleaner and safer future is within reach.

Remember, the fight against microplastics requires collective action. Together, we can create the change needed to protect our environment, our health, and future generations.

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