Got your attention? Thought so. 😉
If you’re thinking, What does poop have to do with food allergies? First, food allergies affect our health and diet, which implicates our digestive tract. Number two, research is increasingly looking to the gut for answers around the rise in food allergies. For these reasons, we thought the topic was a-poo-priate. 💩
This past summer, Austrian researchers reported that the deluge of plastic entering our environment is now entering our stool. That’s right—plastic has been discovered in 114 aquatic species, 90% of seabirds, and now, evidently, in us.
As part of this first-of-its-kind study, researchers followed eight volunteers from a handful of European countries, tracked their consumption habits, and then sampled their stool. Small fibers of plastic—known as microplastics—were found in all participants’ feces to varying degrees, amounting to the first documentation of plastic in human feces to date. The findings confirmed what many scientists have long suspected: we’re eating plastic.
Scientists are now grappling with the health implications, which are largely unknown. Microplastics are capable of damaging the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems in sea life, but little is known about their impact on humans.
On average, 13 billion microplastic particles enter US waterways every day through the municipal water supply. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. The latter bulk of plastic gets broken down into smaller bits, which are eaten by smaller organisms, and make their way up the food chain.
How does this relate to the food allergy and intolerance community?
First, we know that immune health is closely tied to food allergies and intolerances. Experts have found that plastic in the gut can suppress the immune system and increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Second, research has shown that exposure to phthalates, which are found in many plastics, can increase childhood risk of allergies. According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Philipp Schwabi: “[my] primary concern is the human impact… especially [on] patients with gastrointestinal diseases.” He notes that “the smallest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and may even reach the liver.”
While research on the human impact of plastic is still early, one thing is clear: plastic may be harming our immune systems, which could potentially implicate our body’s ability to tolerate and digest certain foods.
We’re eating our waste—that much is clear. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?
– Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team