Correlation between IBD and Microplastics

IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, is characterized by the chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, enveloping conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Some common symptoms may include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, abdominal pain, and fatigue. While the exact cause of IBD is unknown, immune system malfunction could be a contributing factor to this affliction, as an atypical immune response may have caused the immune system to damage the cells in the digestive tract.

In a new study, researchers explored the possible connection between microplastics and IBD, as many individuals are prone to the exposure of these particles. They can even settle in the water we drink, which calls for the urgency in identifying the impact of microplastics on our health, comments Dr. Maria Neira, director of Public Health, Environment, and Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the risk of microplastics in drinking water does not appear to be high with the available information on this issue, further research is required for safety and health concerns.

Prior to the study, Dr. Yan Zhang, lead author and a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse at the School of Environment at Nanjing University, he has discovered that microplastics accumulate in animal livers, kidneys, and guts, with the size of each particle affecting the scale of the accretion. Microplastics that contribute to this mass, explains Zhang, cause intestinal inflammation and metabolic disruption, both of which are found in patients with IBD.

To define a relationship between IBD and microplastics, given that the particles are exposed to humans through the gut, Zhang and colleagues collected fecal samples from both study participants with IBD and healthy participants. Based on the self-reported food and drink consumption, home and work environment, and the condition of IBD, scientists analyzed the samples to identify and quantify the microplastics present.

Researchers have found that fecal samples provided by participants with IBD contained notably higher amounts of microplastics than those of healthy participants. Furthermore, the number of microplastics in the sample showed a direct correlation with the severity of IBD, or Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Zhang concluded, however, that it is still difficult to assume that microplastics cause IBD, as it is a complex disease with ambiguous etiology that is subject to more research. Zhang explains, “we prefer to believe that people with IBD are more likely to retain microplastics.”


Categories: Clinical, Environmental