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Microplastics in Drinking Water: Plastic Detox

Micro Plastics

Thankfully David Attenborough’s Blue Planet has finally brought to global attention that fact that plastic contamination is ubiquitous. Frighteningly, the recent ORB studies and others highlighted that plastic is in bottled, tap and even some well water globally. We are eating, drinking and breathing plastic. We're not really sure what it is doing to us, or indeed, if there is anything we can do to help get it out of our bodies? Getting it out of water is relatively easy and thankfully, given the right herbal and nutritional support, our liver can metabolise and eliminate the plastic that accumulates in us.

Plastic in tap water globally

A study reveals that tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted. The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, ironically the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates. European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

An Irish study released in June 2017 found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water & well samples. “We don’t know what the health impact is & for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle & put enough effort into it immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are,” said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Plastic in bottled water globally
In the recent Orb study (Orb Media is a U.S-based non-profit journalism organisation, scientists are based at the State University of New York in Fredonia) 259 bottles from 19 locations in 9 countries across 11 different brands were analysed and found to contain an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water. The Nestlé Pure Life was found to be the worst offender with concentrations as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics. Unfortunately the information on the 17 brands that didn’t contain plastic seems to be unavailable.

Scientists used Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water. This dye tends to stick to the surface of plastics but not most natural materials. The study has not been published in a journal and has not been through scientific peer review. Dr Andrew Mayes, a University of East Anglia scientist who developed the Nile red technique, told Orb Media he was “satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab”. According to the study, the most common type of plastic fragment found was polypropylene the type of plastic used to make bottle caps. Whilst not exactly appetising, polypropylene is number 5 in the triangle and considered a safe plastic.

Microplastics contain & absorb toxic chemicals that are released in the body
But plastic is not safe as microplastic absorbs toxins absorbs toxins. Microplastics attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon from GMIT Galway said: “Studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.” According to Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University UK, “It became clear ...that the plastic would release those chemicals & that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release.” His past research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK. More than 50 persistent organic pollutants, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), specifically polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),  have been found in the five most common types of mass-produced plastics.

AlmiraVana et al., Persistent organic pollutants in plastic marine debris found on beaches in San Diego, California., Chemosphere., Volume 86, Issue 3, January 2012, Pages 258-263

The brands Orb Media tested
Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestlé Pure Life (Nestlé), San Pellegrino (Nestlé) and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group). The bottles analysed were bought in the US, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand. 

Another Study also found plastic in bottled drinking water: Story of Stuff Study
A second unrelated analysis, also just released, was commissioned by campaign group Story of Stuff and examined 19 consumer bottled water brands in the US. It also found plastic microfibres were widespread. The brand Boxed Water contained an average of 58.6 plastic fibres per litre. Ozarka and Ice Mountain, both owned by Nestlé, had concentrations at 15 and 11 pieces per litre, respectively. Fiji Water had 12 plastic fibres per litre.

Plastic in bottled water is twice as high as in tap water
According to a previous Orb Study that found high levels of microplastics in tap water, this new study shows the levels of plastic fibres in bottled water brands are twice as high as those found in tap water.

Where is the microplastic coming from?

Abigail Barrows, who carried out the research for Story of Stuff, said there were several possible routes for the plastics to be entering the bottles.“Plastic microfibres are easily airborne. Clearly that’s occurring not just outside but inside factories. It could come in from fans or the clothing being worn,” she said.

Coca-Cola told the BBC it had strict filtration methods, but acknowledged the ubiquity of plastics in the environment meant plastic fibres “may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products”. A Gerolsteiner spokesperson said the company, too, could not rule out plastics getting into bottled water from airborne sources or from packing processes. The spokesperson said concentrations of plastics in water from their own analyses were lower than those allowed in pharmaceutical products.

More generally speaking however, microplastics are the result of the breakdown of all the plastic waste that makes its way into landfills and oceans. Once in the ocean, it is naturally sequestered into the clouds and the atmosphere and so is in the very air we breathe. This is officially the Plastic Age.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is staggering
In Germany plastic fibres & fragments were found in all 24 beer brands tested, as well as in honey & sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits 3 to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, & that it was also present in the air in people’s homes. It is not genetics causing the rise in cancer. The is an horrific and unacceptable statistic

Burning plastic releases plastic into the air
Plastic also becomes airborne when it is burned. Burning plastic releases carbon monoxide, dioxins and furans the most toxic chemicals known to science. Do not burn plastic!

For more information see also The Dangers of Burning Plastic

We are washing plastic straight down the drain into the sea
Acrylic, Polyester & Nylon are made from plastic which is made from petrol. It is an environmental hazard that never goes away. Synthetic clothing that ends up in landfill soaks through the land, into the water table & into our drinking water. Or it ends up in our sea and sequentially into our clouds and again into our drinking water. One truck load of used clothes goes to landfill every second. One truckload of plastic enters the sea every second. By 2050 they are saying there will be more plastic in the sea than fish! These are unacceptable statistics!

Acrylics are by Far the Worst Offender
When acrylics are washed in washing machines, the average load of household washing shed 750,000 tiny synthetic particles (microplastics) per wash, 5 X more than polyester-cotton.

When drying synthetics we are venting microplastic straight into our air

Regardless of microplastic contamination, is it even safe to drink water from plastic?
The 'single use' water bottles that you typically buy at milk bars, service stations and the like are usually made from polyethylene terephthalate (abbreviated to PET or PETE), an inexpensive and lightweight plastic. Its recycling code (the number in the centre of the triangle of arrows found on most plastics) is 1. My advice is no it is not safe to drink from PET number 1. Whilst some people claim this is safe for single use or if washed thoroughly between uses, PET has previously been shown to affect the hormonal system. Leonard Sax., Polyethylene Terephthalate May Yield Endocrine Disruptors., Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apr; 118(4): 445–448.

Studies have found levels of antimony, a toxic chemical and phthalate, a potentially harmful 'plasticiser' used to make some plastics more flexible in water leaching from PET bottles that have been placed in heat for prolonged times. Although PETE does not contain BPA or Phthalates, it’s always best to make sure that your water bottles are not temperature abused.
Westerhoff P1, Prapaipong P, Shock E, Hillaireau A. Antimony leaching from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic used for bottled drinking water. Water Res. 2008 Feb;42(3):551-6. Epub 2007 Aug 6.

Using your own bottle for filtered tap water
Traditionally reusable plastic water drinking bottles are made from Polycarbonate, which has a recycling code of 7. Polycarbonate is made of a monomer called bisphenol A (BPA). As the plastic breaks down over time, BPA is released into the water held in polycarbonate bottles, particularly when the bottle is heated or repeatedly washed.

Research has shown BPA can mimic the neurological properties of oestrogen.
Hoa H.LeEmily M.CarlsonJason P.ChuaScott M.Belcher., Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons., Toxicology Letters Volume 176, Issue 2, 30 January 2008, Pages 149-156

Even BPA free plastic may be harmful
However, a more recent investigation published in Environmental Health Perspectives has shown that in some cases, BPA-free PET containers might leach more oestrogen-like chemicals. Chun Z. Yang et al., Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved., Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul 1; 119(7): 989–996.

Aluminium is not a good alternative as it can corrode and release aluminium salts into the water. Common sense says it is best to err on the side of caution and drink from glass or stainless steel.

WHO launches health review on  microplastics in drinking water

In consideration of this study, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water. A World Health Organisation spokesman told the Guardian that although there was not yet any evidence on impacts on human health, it was aware it was an emerging area of concern. The spokesman said the WHO would “review the very scarce available evidence with the objective of identifying evidence gaps, and establishing a research agenda to inform a more thorough risk assessment.”

What to do about the plastic in us

A federal government study now reports that bisphenol A (BPA)  laces the bodies of the vast majority of U.S. residents young and old. Very basically plastic is a lipophilic chemical. Its is the livers job to make lipophilic chemicals (fat soluble) into hydrophilic chemicals (water soluble) for excretion by via urine, bile and skin. Having a healthy full function non fatty liver will assist this process greatly to ensure you are plastic free.

First and foremost stop drinking out of plastic and stop drinking plastic in water!

To remove microplastics: filter tap water & drink from a stainless steel bottle
The smallest microplastics measured by Orb in tap water were about 2.5 micron across most being considerably larger. It’s important to understand the size as this will impact the type of filtering required. The Carahealth Gravity Fed Water Filter filters microplastics to 0.7 microns. This is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly solution to address microplastic contamination in drinking water. The Carahealth Gravity Fed Water Filter uses no electricity. It is the cheapest way to achieve fluoride free, chemical free, plastic free water that is good for you and good for the planet. The Carahealth Gravity Fed Water Filter costs 2 euro per week for a family.

Can we detox plastic?

Inside the liver cells there are sophisticated mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years to break down toxic substances. Every drug, artificial chemical, pesticide and hormone, is broken down (metabolised) by enzyme pathways inside the liver cells. Many of the toxic chemicals that enter the body are fat-soluble, which means they dissolve only in fatty or oily solutions and not in water. This makes them difficult for the body to excrete. Fat soluble chemicals have a high affinity for fat tissues and cell membranes, which are made of fatty substances. In these fatty parts of the body, toxins may be stored for years, being released during times of exercise, stress or fasting.The liver has two mechanisms designed to convert fat-soluble chemicals into water soluble chemicals so that they may then be easily excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile, urine and sweat.

Having a fully functioning Phase I and Phase II detoxification will assist in the detoxification of the ingested plastics, including phthalates & BPA, and inhaled plastics, including dioxins and furans from burning plastic. The problem though is that excessive amounts of toxic chemicals such as those in plastic, disrupt the Phase I P-450 enzyme system by causing over activity also known as 'induction' of this pathway. This will result in high levels of damaging free radicals being produced. The danger is if these reactive molecules are not further metabolised by Phase II conjugation, they may cause damage to proteins, RNA, and DNA within the cell, thus leading to early ageing and cancer formation.

Understanding how plastics are detoxed
Detoxing plastics from ingestion: Phthalates & BPA
Phthalates and BPA have received considerable attention because of their proven toxicity in animal studies and because of their ubiquitous presence in the environment and in humans.

Phthalates are man made chemicals typically found in industrial solvents and lubricants, additives in the textile industry, in pesticide formulations, floorings, roofing, wall coverings, cables, clothing, packaging materials, as components in personal-care products and toys. David R et al., Esters of aromatic mono-, di-, and tricarboxylic acids, aromatic diacids, and di-, tri-, or polyalcohols. In Patty’s Toxicology, vol 6 pp. 635–932, 5th edn.

BPA is mainly used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. BPA-derived products can be used in impact-resistant safety equipment and baby bottles, as protective coatings inside metal food containers, and as composites and sealants in dentistry. Exposure to BPA results primarily from ingesting contaminated food.  Kang JH, Kondo F, Katayama Y., Human exposure to bisphenol A. Toxicology. 2006 Sep 21; 226(2-3):79-89.

After exposure, environmental chemicals enter the body, if small enough they reach the blood systemic circulation and distribute into various body compartments, where they can be in equilibrium with blood concentrations, secretion concentrations or both. Phthalates and BPA are metabolised in Phase I liver pathways to increase their hydrophilic character (make them water soluble); they can then be excreted unchanged or can undergo Phase II biotransformations; glucuronidation or sulphation.

Even plastic that is too big to pass through the gut wall and pentrate the cells still poses a risk as this plastic carries chemicals of smaller molecular size. These hydrophobic chemicals can penetrate into cells and disrupt the endocrine system. Emma L. Teuten et al., Transport and release of chemicals from plastics to the environment and to wildlife.,  Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jul 27; 364(1526): 2027–2045.

Detoxing plastic inhaled from burning: dioxin & furans

Dioxins & furans are in part metabolised in Phase I detox pathways and eliminated, however the rest is stored in body fat. The better we metabolise and eliminate; the less we will store. The less fat we have also; the less we will store. Dioxins and furans are also known as TCDD, TCDD being the contaminant in Agent Orange, the herbicide used in the Vietnam War. People vary in their capacity to eliminate TCDD, but it is also dose-dependent; the elimination rate is much faster at higher than lower levels. Marinković N1 et al., Dioxins and human toxicity. Arh Hig Rada Toksikol. 2010 Dec;61(4):445-53

Phase 1 & II Liver Detoxification Pathways

Phase 1 Detoxification Pathway
Phase I detoxification is catalysed by enzymes referred to as the cytochrome P450 enzyme group or Mixed Function Oxidase enzymes MFO. These enzymes reside on the membrane system of the liver cells (called Hepatocytes). The P450 enzyme system oxygenates lipophilic chemicals such as dioxins and furans into hydrophilic chemicals for excretion. To put it simply, this pathway converts a toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical by turning fat soluble toxins into water soluble toxins for exrection in the urine, bile and sweat

Some may be converted from relatively harmless substances into potentially carcinogenic substances. Excessive amounts of toxic chemicals such as plastic disrupt the P-450 enzyme system by causing over activity or what is called 'induction' of this pathway. This will result in high levels of damaging free radicals being produced. The danger is if these reactive molecules are not further metabolised by Phase II conjugation, they may cause damage to proteins, RNA, and DNA within the cell to promote cancer. Plastics (pthalates, BPA, dioxins and furans) cause overactivity (or induction) of the P- 450 enzymes.

Phase II Detoxification Pathway
This is called the conjugation pathway, whereby the liver cells add another substance (eg. cysteine, glycine or a sulphur molecule) to a toxic chemical or drug, to render it less harmful. This makes the toxin or drug water-soluble, so it can then be excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile or urine. Major Phase II pathways include glutathione, glucuronidation and sulphation.Our own endogenous antioxidants (self made) phase II enzymes, including catalase, glutathione (GSH), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), glutathione reductase, glutathione S-transferase (GST) and Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) are important to combat the free radicals formed from Phase I detox especially if it is induced (sped up)

Assisting plastic detoxification
The best way to ensure that you are effectively is to ensure you have healthy balanced diet with minimal processed foods and a variety of deeply coloured antioxidant rich fruits and in particular Calcium D-Glucarate containing vegetables. Calcium D-Glucarate is an excellent detoxifying agent that promotes glucuronidation, the important Phase II detoxification pathway. Having 2 or more servings of calcium D glucarate containing brassicaceae vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, watercress, turnips, collard greens, kale ect a day will assist the detoxification of plastics. Brassicaceae vegetables also contain a chemical called sulphoraphane which both inhibits Phase 1 and stimulates Phase II. Grapefruit contains a substance called naringenin which is responsible for these effects. Regularly drinking a substantial amount of grapefruit juice can really slow down phase 1 detoxification.

My other recommendation is to take Carahealth Liver Tonic : Milk thistle Silybum marianum, Bupleurum/Chai Hu柴胡 Bupleurum falcatum, Globe artichoke Cynara scolymus, Barberry Berberis vulgaris, Turmeric Curcuma longa.

Milk thistle Silybum marianum contains the active compound silymarin which restores depelted Glutathione (GSH) to assist Phase II detoxification processes and help protect the liver. 

Bupleurum Bupleurum falcatum contains the active ingredient saikosaponins inhibit the cytochrome P450 enzymes (specifically CYP1A2, CYP2C9 and CYP3A4 system). Yu T1, Chen X, Wang Y, Zhao R, Mao S.Modulatory effects of extracts of vinegar-baked Radix Bupleuri and saikosaponins on the activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes in vitro. Xenobiotica. 2014 Oct;44(10):861-7. 

Globe artichoke Cynara scolymus which contains the actives constituent flavonoids Luteolin which inhibits Phase I detox (specifically the cytochrome P450 CYP 3A4 and CYP3A5 enzymes). This is useful as excess toxins including drugs and plastics induce this pathway. Quintieri L1, Palatini P, Nassi A, Ruzza P, Floreani M.Flavonoids diosmetin and luteolin inhibit midazolam metabolism by human liver microsomes and recombinant CYP 3A4 and CYP3A5 enzymes.Biochem Pharmacol., 2008 Mar 15;75(6):1426-37.

Globe artichoke also contains the compound cynarin which stimulates glucuronidation pathway of Phase II.  Results from cell-based studies suggest that artichoke has potent antioxidant activity and reduces toxin-induced reduction of glutathione reserves. Gebhardt R. Antioxidant and protective properties of extracts from leaves of the artichoke (Cynarascolymus L.) against hydroperoxideinduced oxidative stress in cultured rat hepatocytes. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1997;144(2):279-86.

Barberry Berebris vulgaris a berberine containing herbs. Berberines specifically increase our endogenous antioxidants Thinnakorn Lao-ong et al., Alteration of hepatic glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase expression in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice by berberine., Pharm Biol. 2012 Aug;50(8):1007-12.

In relation to the plastic detox specifically Carahealth Liver Tonic specifically includes Turmeric Curcuma longa which contains the compound Curcumin. Curcumin has the advantageous ability to inhibit Phase I while stimulating Phase II. Again this is very important as plastic toxins are said to induce (speed up) Phase I Liver detox resulting in the formation of too many free radicals entering Phase II thus Phase II being overburdened and contributing to many chronic degenerative diseases including ageing and cancer formation. Curcumin in turmeric also restores depleted GSH.

To Summarise :Take Action
• Don’t drink from plastic bottles
• Filter your tap water using a plastic free Carahealth Gravity Fed Water Filter
• Take an organic Carahealth Liver Tonic to help rid your body of toxic plastic
• Eat healthily including plenty of brassicacea family
• Boycott Acrylic, Polyester and Nylon
• Buy biodegradable & non-toxic VISCOSE (made from wood) RAYON (made from bamboo) & COTTON
• Tell your kids school you want natural fibre school uniforms
• Avoid single use plastic where possible.
• Burning plastic releases Dioxins & Furans which damage fertility, interfere with hormones & cause cancer. Report anyone burning plastic to the EPA & local council.
• Contact your washing machine manufacturer. Demand filters on washing machines & filters at water treatment plants to catch microplastics at the very least.
• Don’t use a tumble dryer to dry synthetics. You are releasing dioxins and furans and microplastics into your home and environment.

Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu.
Cert IV TAE. ARCHTI mem.

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