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Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health


Recently, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in its report “Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health” highlighted that the Microplastics and nano plastics considerably impact human and animal gut microbiomes as well as the environment.


GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Report “Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health”
  2. Significance of the findings
  3. About gut microbiome
  4. About Microplastics

Key Highlights of the Report “Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health”:

  • Exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics can lead to intestinal inflammation and gut dysbiosis, causing changes in the gut microbiome and microbiota.
  • Microplastics act as stressors and trigger inflammatory responses, affecting specific microorganisms and leading to microbial dysbiosis.
  • Microplastics found in water bottles and food items can accumulate in human lung tissue, placenta, stool, blood, and meconium.
  • Hydrophobic plastics can adsorb harmful chemicals and persistent organic pollutants from the environment.
  • Accumulation of microplastics in the gut can result in changes in the mucus layer, gut permeability, mucosal structure, oxidative stress, and immune response.
  • Physical abrasion and accumulation of microplastics in the gut can cause satiety, reduced food consumption, weight loss, metabolic changes, and impact liver function and metabolism.
  • The severity of the impact depends on the concentration and shape of microplastic particles.

Significance of the findings

  • Human Health Concerns: The report highlights the potential health risks associated with exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics. These particles can cause gut inflammation, dysbiosis, and metabolic changes, which may have long-term implications for human health.
  • Environmental Impact: The presence of microplastics and nanoplastics in various food items and the environment raises concerns about their accumulation and potential transfer through the food chain. This highlights the need for measures to reduce plastic pollution and protect ecosystems.
  • Policy Implications: The findings underscore the importance of incorporating measures to mitigate plastic pollution in policies and regulations. This includes promoting sustainable practices, reducing plastic waste, and developing methods for safe disposal or recycling of plastic materials.
  • Research and Awareness: The report emphasizes the need for further research to better understand the impacts of microplastics and nanoplastics on human health and the environment. It also highlights the importance of raising awareness among the general public, industries, and policymakers about the risks associated with plastic pollution.

About gut microbiome:

The gut microbiome refers to the diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, that reside in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). These microorganisms have a symbiotic relationship with the human body and play a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being. Here are some key points about the gut microbiome:


  • The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms from hundreds of different species.
  • The composition and diversity of the microbiome can vary between individuals based on factors such as diet, lifestyle, genetics, and environmental influences.


  • The gut microbiota performs various important functions.
  • It aids in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, helps in the synthesis of vitamins and enzymes, and plays a role in the metabolism of dietary compounds.
  • It also influences the immune system, helps protect against pathogens, and plays a role in maintaining the integrity of the gut barrier.

Health Implications:

  • The gut microbiome has been linked to numerous aspects of human health, including digestive health, immune function, metabolism, mental health, and even chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Imbalances or disruptions in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, have been associated with various health conditions.

Modifiable Factors:

  • The gut microbiome is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.
  • While certain aspects of the microbiome are determined by genetics, it is also highly responsive to changes in diet, lifestyle, medications, stress, and other environmental factors.
  • This means that it can be modulated and influenced through interventions such as dietary changes, probiotics, prebiotics, and fecal microbiota transplantation.

About Microplastics

Microplastics are small plastic particles that are less than five millimeters in diameter, smaller than the standard pearl used in jewelry. They are a type of plastic pollution that poses environmental and health concerns. Here are some key points about microplastics:


  • Microplastics are formed through the fragmentation and degradation of larger plastic items under the influence of natural factors such as sunlight, wind, and water currents.
  • Over time, larger plastics break down into smaller particles, resulting in microplastics.

Size Classification:

  • Microplastics are generally categorized into two size ranges: microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) and nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm).
  • Nanoplastics are even smaller and often result from the further breakdown of microplastics.

Primary Microplastics:

  • These are small plastic particles that are intentionally manufactured for commercial purposes.
  • Examples include microbeads used in personal care products, plastic pellets used in manufacturing, and plastic fibers released from clothing and textiles.

Secondary Microplastics:

  • These are microplastics that are formed from the breakdown and fragmentation of larger plastic items such as water bottles, packaging materials, and other plastic waste.
  • Exposure to environmental factors like sunlight and ocean waves leads to the degradation of these plastics, resulting in secondary microplastics.

-Source: Down To Earth

December 2023