‘Matter of great concern’: Microplastics found in placentas of pregnant women for first timeMay 23, 2021
Something happens to people when they have kids; they anguish. This anguish can start right from the words ‘I’m pregnant’, and for women especially, the weight falls not only on her shoulders but also in her womb to start providing a safe life for her offspring. Yet it’s not only the womb that plays a huge role. The placenta plays a pivotal role, and with recent research showing microplastics being found in female placentas, another medical anguish is rising.
The Female Miracle
Pregnant women usually choose actions that feel right, like giving up smoking or drinking, eating healthier, resting more, and committing to regular health check-ups. These responsibilities are clearly theirs to take as a mother’s love naturally kicks in. Mother Nature also blesses women with her very own new organ, a placenta.
The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. This structure provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby and removes waste products from the baby’s blood. The placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus, and the baby’s umbilical cord arises from it. (1)
Some placental problems are common. High blood pressure, twin or multiple pregnancies, blood-clotting disorders, and previous uterine surgeries such as C-section or fibroid removal, can all cause problems. Substance abuse, abdominal traumas or even just being a woman over 40 can cause placental worry. During pregnancy, a baby is surrounded and cushioned by a fluid-filled membrane called the amniotic sac. If the sac leaks or breaks before labor begins, also called water breaking, the risk of certain placental problems increases. All these are realities that medical knowledge educates is to expect. (1)
As a matter of new concern, researchers from Rome’s Fatebenefratelli Hospital, which specializes in pediatrics, recently found 12 microplastic fragments in four placentas out of six, donated by women after birth for research. It seems pigments from man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers, and personal care products are all reaching placentas, and the harmful effects are not good, carrying with them substances that act as endocrine disruptors causing long-term effects. (2)
‘It’s like having a cyborg baby, no longer composed only of human cells,’ lead author of the study, Antonio Ragusa concluded.
Micro-plastics in placentas
To participate, six consenting patients signed a consent, which included a donation of placentas. A plastic-free environment was maintained, to ensure viability. Cotton gloves were used by the midwives to support the women in labor. Cotton towels were used in the delivery room to cover the beds, and the umbilical cord was clamped and cut with metal clippers to prevent contact with plastic material. Cotton gloves were also worn by pathologists and metal scalpels were used. With 12 micro-plastic fragments found in four placentas out of six, the results were worrying.
Microplastics are treated by the host organism as foreign bodies within human cells, and this can cause localized immune responses. These effects may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction.
The researchers noted that the global production of plastics has reached 320 million tons per year in the last century, with over 40 percent being used as single-use packaging, thus contributing greatly to plastic waste levels. (2)
With this study shedding new light on the level of human exposure to MPs and micro-particles in general, plastic in placentas may be an added concern to having a baby. Further studies need to be performed to assess if the presence of MPs in the human placenta may trigger immune responses or may lead to the release of toxic contaminants, resulting in a harmful pregnancy.
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