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The plastic in our bodies

Nobody, it seemed, had thought to look before.

When two Austrian scientists discovered last year th..

Nobody, it seemed, had thought to look before.

When two Austrian scientists discovered last year that its likely most people have plastic inside their bodies, it wasnt because they had invented some new, complicated scientific method. It was because they were the first to check.

Their approach was simple. They asked eight people, mostly in Europe, but also in Japan and Russia, to keep a weeklong food diary. Then, they examined stool samples from their subjects, looking for plastic.

They found it in every single one: On average, 20 tiny pieces in each 10 grams of stool; given that humans poop on average 400 to 500 grams a day, that means their subjects were likely passing some 800 to 1,000 pieces of so-called microplastic daily.

The scientists, Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, and Bettina Liebmann of Austrias environment agency, are the first to admit their findings are at best preliminary. Their results dont say where that plastic came from, what exactly it contains, and how — or whether — it is affecting our health.

The Great Pacific garbage patch; debris found in fish, turtles and whales; microscopic pieces within us — plastic, it seems, is literally everywhere.

The study is just now undergoing peer review, and much larger sample sizes will be needed to confirm its conclusions. But based on their results, the scientists estimate that more than half of the worlds population might have plastic passing through their bodies.

The study set off a wave of concern about the potential impact plastic could be having on humans, adding momentum to the transformation that plastic is undergoing in the public consciousness.

In its short history, plastic has gone from miracle material to a cause of mounting global concern. The Great Pacific garbage patch; debris found in fish, turtles and whales; microscopic pieces within us — plastic, it seems, is literally everywhere.

And as a substance, its turning out to be devilishly difficult to do something about. Plastic is cheap to produce, useful nearly everywhere and incredibly durable. These qualities make it nearly indispensable to large swathes of the modern economy, from packaging and fashion to medicine and transportation. They also make it a nightmare to regulate or dispose of.

Plastics can lodge in the organs of fish, causing inflammation and physical damage | Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty Images

At the same time, even if the science isnt yet clear about the effect plastics have on our bodies, worries are rapidly mounting.

“Were running this big human experiment on how they will affect us,” said Alice Bernard, a lawyer for environmental advocacy group ClientEarth. “It was not thought through at all.”

Endless possibilities

Its taken just over a century for plastics to become a ubiquitous part of our lives, our environment and perhaps even our bodies.

The first mass-produced plastic was invented in 1907, by Belgian-born scientist Leo Baekeland. In creating a hard, moldable material that would retain its shape after being heated, Baekeland opened a Pandoras box in reverse — a flurry of hope followed by microscopic mayhem.

The plastics boom began in earnest after World War II, when global production skyrocketed from 1.5 million tons annually in 1950 to 100 million tons in 1989. In 2017, nearly 350 million tons were being produced each year.

Of more than 6 billion tons of plastic waste produced since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, and 12 percent has been burned.

“In product after product, market after market, plastics challenged traditional materials and won,” wrote author Susan Freinkel in a book on the materials ubiquity. Plastics possibilities are near-endless: In its various forms it has replaced steel in cars, wood in furniture, paper and glass in packaging, and cotton in clothes.

It didnt take long for the material to move into the environment.

Although most plastics are derived from petroleum — an organic matter — the manufacturing process warps individual chemical units found in petroleum, helping them form extremely strong carbon bonds unlike anything produced in nature. Because of this uniqueness, the organisms that decompose organic matter dont know how to break down plastic.

This, combined with the fact that many plastic items are used once and thrown away, means the vast majority of the plastic that has been produced is still out there, somewhere.

Of more than 6 billion tons of plastic waste produced since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, and 12 percent has been burned.

Bio-degradable glitter, an alternative to microplastics, has gained more fans amongst festival and carnival goers | Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images

Some of the other 4.7 billion tons of plastic waste sits in landfills, little trash mountains piling up in every country in the world.

Some of it is floating in the oceans, contributing to island-sized patches of floating garbage accumulated by rotating ocean currents. The rest of it surrounds us in the form of microplastics, particles ranging in size from microscopic to 5 millimeters long.

The term microplastics was coined in 2004 by Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University. He noticed that groups trying to clean up plastic pollution on beaches were mainly looking for “trophy items” like tires and fishing nets. He decided to look a bit closer.

“We found small bits among the sand grains that looked like sand grains,” he said. “We confirmed that they were plastic.”

Microplastics can act as a “vehicle” for some of the more harmful chemical additives in plastic | Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images

The microplastics varied in size and origin: Some were created at a very small size — think the little beads in exfoliating cosmetics or in fertilizers — but most of them are the result of bigger plastic items breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, then slipping into the environment unnoticed. The two biggest sources of unintentionally released microplastics are wear from synthetic rubber tires and plastic fibers released from washing polyester or nylon clothes.

Thompsons research demonstrated that the amount of microscopic plastic on beaches has increased substantially since the 1960s. And he made another discovery. “We showed that a range of creatures can ingest that material,” he said.

In the years since, Thompsons findings have been confirmed over and over again. Microplastics have been found in nearly every fish and aquatic animal thats been tested.

Mussels in the coal mine

Now concern is growing about the effect of plastics on the human body, primarily informed by research that has been done on animal health.

Studies have found that sea birds, and marine animals like whales that filter-feed, can ingest so many microplastics that they accumulate in their digestive systems and block the ability to digest food. Others found that plastics can lodge in the organs of fish, causing inflammation and physical damage by jabbing and rubbing up against organ walls.

And beyond the mechanical problems caused by small pieces of non-biodegradable material stuck in organs, research has also shown that microplastics can act as a “vehicle” for some of the more harmful chemical additives in plastic, carrying them directly into the bodies of animals.

“They can soak up all these substances from other toxins, colorants and additives, and bring those into an organism,” said Frédérique Mongodin, a marine litter policy officer at the environmental NGO Seas at Risk.

This contamination from microplastics has been found in marine animals big and small, and its been linked to a host of problems, from inhibiting brain activity in tilapia fish to contributing to the early death of whales.

Plastic pollution does not have the known deadly effects that other environmental challenges do.

But while it may seem intuitive that its only a matter of time until negative effects are proven for humans too, most researchers are more cautious.

Plastic has been found in the guts of many commercially fished species, but since humans dont generally eat fish stomachs, scientists thought it was possible we werent digesting it. Plastic also shows up in a range of food products — from table salt to drinking water to beer — but until Schwabl and Liebmann started looking through fecal samples, nobody had showed it was present in our bodies in large quantities.

Some scientists wondered if seafood we eat whole, like mussels, could be carrying chemicals from plastics into our bodies, but they found were exposed to most of these from so many other places that microplastics from eating seafood is actually a negligible factor.

Schwabl and Liebmanns study has helped propel a new wave of research — partly because it left two important questions unanswered.

A wild deer rummage through garbage dumped at an open ground in Sri Lanka | Lukruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP via Getty Images

First, it cant say anything about where the plastic came from. “We showed it must have been swallowed,” Schwabl said. But thats it. The plastic could have been in something people ate or drank, or it could have migrated from materials in packaging or forks.

Second, it says nothing about whether the plastics in our guts are doing us any harm.

The gastrointestinal tract serves as a barrier between what we eat and our insides. Some who have looked at the study argue that as long as the plastics simply pass through our digestive system and are flushed out as waste, there may not be a problem. “And I second that opinion,” Schwabl said.

Funding is being doled out globally to research projects that are examining whether microplastics pose a risk to human health. But as scientists call for more research on human health impacts, some are also calling for the response to be proportional to the risk.

Plastic pollution does not have the known deadly effects that other environmental challenges do. Air pollution contributes to 7 million deaths annually, and climate change-related diseases could each year claim a quarter of a million lives. Plastic pollution has never been blamed for a single death.

Of the 11.7 million tons of microplastics estimated to enter the environment every year, only 3 million of them began as tiny particles.

“There is a big discrepancy between the magnitude of this debate and actual scientific findings, which have merely shown the presence of microplastics in certain products,” concluded Sinja Rist, a researcher from the Technical University of Denmark, in a critical look at the science of microplastics and human health. “The recent debate has created a skewed picture of human plastic exposure.”

Earlier this year, the EU advisory body Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) published a meta-analysis of all available studies on microplastics. Its conclusion: Read More – Source

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Health

Do sleeping patterns relate to mental health?

Sleeping patterns play a crucial role in our overall health and well-being, including our mental health. A good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining physical and mental health, as well as for improving our mood, productivity, and cognitive function. However, disrupted sleeping patterns, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, can have negative effects on our mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can negatively impact mental health by altering the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating our mood, emotions, and behavior. For example, a lack of sleep can lower the levels of serotonin, which is responsible for regulating mood, and increase the levels of cortisol, which is associated with stress. This can result in feelings of anxiety, depression, and irritability.

Moreover, disrupted sleeping patterns can interfere with the normal functioning of the brain, leading to decreased cognitive function and poor memory recall. This can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and make decisions, leading to decreased confidence and self-esteem. The resulting stress and anxiety can further exacerbate the problems, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.

In addition to the impact on mental health, disrupted sleeping patterns can also contribute to physical health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and decreased immunity. These physical health problems can further exacerbate the negative effects on mental health, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to improve sleeping patterns and protect mental health. Establishing a consistent sleep routine is essential for maintaining good sleep hygiene. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, regardless of the day of the week. Creating a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading a book or listening to soothing music, can also help promote a good night’s sleep.

Additionally, creating a sleep-friendly environment can also help improve sleep quality. This includes keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, as well as limiting exposure to screens, such as televisions and smartphones, before bedtime.

Finally, it is essential to address any underlying mental health problems that may be contributing to disrupted sleeping patterns. For example, depression and anxiety are common causes of insomnia and can often be treated with therapy or medication. Similarly, sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and sleeping on your side, or with the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

In conclusion, sleeping patterns are a crucial aspect of our mental health and well-being. Disrupted sleeping patterns, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, can have negative effects on our mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. However, by establishing a consistent sleep routine, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and addressing underlying mental health problems, we can improve our sleep quality and protect our mental health.

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Health

What Is PTSD? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a car accident, or military combat. PTSD can cause intrusive and distressing symptoms that can impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall functioning.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of reminders of the event
  • Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • Hypervigilance and feeling constantly on guard
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

Causes of PTSD: While the exact cause of PTSD is not known, it is believed to be related to a combination of biological and psychological factors. For some people, traumatic events can trigger changes in the brain that affect the way they process memories and emotions. Other factors such as previous trauma exposure, genetic predisposition, and a lack of social support can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD after a traumatic event.

Diagnosis of PTSD: A PTSD diagnosis is typically made by a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. They will evaluate the individual’s symptoms, history of traumatic events, and overall functioning to determine if they meet the criteria for PTSD. This typically involves a comprehensive clinical interview and a mental health assessment.

Treatment of PTSD: Treatment for PTSD is highly individualized and can vary depending on the severity and nature of the symptoms. The most effective treatments for PTSD typically involve a combination of medication and therapy.

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and sleep problems associated with PTSD.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that is commonly used to treat PTSD. CBT helps individuals to change their thought patterns and behaviors in order to reduce their symptoms. Exposure therapy is another form of CBT that involves gradually and repeatedly exposing the individual to reminders of the traumatic event in a controlled environment until their anxiety decreases.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another type of therapy that has been found to be effective in treating PTSD. EMDR involves guiding the individual to recall the traumatic event while focusing on a specific stimulus, such as the therapist’s hand movements, to help process and integrate the memory.

Group therapy can also be helpful for individuals with PTSD, as it provides a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences with others who have gone through similar experiences.

In conclusion, PTSD is a debilitating condition that can impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall functioning. However, with the right treatment, individuals with PTSD can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of PTSD, it’s important to reach out for help and support.

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Health

Why is Preserved Nature a Prerequisite For Good Health?

 

Access to nature provides a range of physical and mental health benefits. Protected natural areas provide a valuable buffer to urban environments. They provide a range of ecosystem services, which can help prevent air pollution and dust storms, protect water quality, and promote healthy eating.

Investing in nature-based solutions is a cost-effective way to improve public health. In the UK, the 25-Year Plan for the Environment includes a commitment to protecting biodiversity. This means that city planners and conservation experts must work together to ensure the longevity of protected natural areas.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognizes the importance of ecosystem-based adaptation. Protected natural areas play a key role in facilitating climate change adaptation and buffering the urban environment from climate change.

Several major cities in the world have protected areas. For example, the Table Mountain National Park protects 25,000 hectares of Cape Town flora, while the Sydney Opera House is one of the largest protected parks in the world.

Many protected natural areas also promote outdoor activity programs. This can reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as malaria, and it may also increase the stocks of fish in marine protected areas. A recent study found that a neighborhood with 15% green spaces had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Nature can also reduce feelings of anger and sadness. Studies have shown that access to nature can reduce the incidence of respiratory disorders, and it can prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

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