New research shows that nanoplastics — microscopic particles broken down from everyday plastic items — bind to proteins associated with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.
These stealthy nanoparticles have already infiltrated our soil, water, and food supply. Now, they may pose the next great toxin threat, fueling a wave of neurodegenerative disease.
Plastic Cups, Utensils Identified as Risk Factors
Polystyrene nanoparticles, commonly found in plastic cups and utensils, bind to alpha-synuclein, a protein linked to Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia, the new study from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and the Department of Chemistry at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences found. The plastic-protein accumulation was seen in test tubes, cultured neurons, and mouse models.
The most surprising finding was the tight bonds formed between the plastic and protein within neuron lysosomes, according to Andrew West, the study's principal investigator. Lysosomes are digestive organelles within cells that use enzymes to break down waste materials and cellular debris.
"Our study suggests that the emergence of micro and nanoplastics in the environment might represent a new toxin challenge with respect to Parkinson's disease risk and progression," Mr. West said in a statement. This is especially concerning given the expected increase of these contaminants in our water and food, he noted.
Growing evidence indicates that nanoplastics circulate in the air, especially indoors. When inhaled, they can travel from the respiratory tract directly to the blood and brain, increasing cancer risk.
Change Environment Now to Prevent Disease Later: Expert
Our health today is largely a function of our environment in the past, Dr. Ray Dorsey, a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester in New York and author of "Ending Parkinson's Disease," told The Epoch Times.
"For example, the risk of lung cancer is a function of our past smoking habits," he said. "If we want to live lives free of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer in the future, we should pay attention to our environment today."
The Duke study adds to evidence that common toxic pollutants may contribute to Parkinson's disease, Dr. Dorsey said. While more research is needed, evidence from both laboratory and epidemiological studies suggests our environments are fueling a rise in Parkinson's incidence.
"Much, if not most" of Parkinson's cases may be preventable, he said.
Besides reducing our use of plastic, there are other effective precautions that we can take to limit our exposure to this environmental toxin, Dr. Dorsey pointed out. These include the following:
- Using carbon filters to protect ourselves from chemicals in the water.
- Purchasing organic food.
- Thoroughly washing all fruits and vegetables.
- Using air purifiers if living in areas with high air pollution.
Besides nanoplastics, other toxins have been linked to Parkinson's, including organic pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were banned in 1979 but are still found in 30 percent of U.S. schools. Researchers have found high concentrations of this pollutant in the brains of deceased people who had Parkinson's.
"We need to know the full extent of this toxic threat in our classrooms so that we can test for PCBs, remediate it, and inform families that their students may be at risk of exposure to these dangerous chemicals," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement.
Other toxins linked to Parkinson's in our environment have yet to be removed from use. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed bans on dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides associated with a 500 percent increased risk of Parkinson's disease, but there has been no action yet.
Toxic Pesticides Harming Health but 'Political Will' Lacking
The EPA banned the pesticide chlorpyrifos (CPF) in 2021, but a court reversed that decision in November 2022. Research identifies CPF as a likely Parkinson's disease risk factor.
Another pesticide, paraquat, has allegedly been linked to Parkinson's by its manufacturer Syngenta's own research, according to a report by The Guardian. Chinese-owned Syngenta reportedly created a "paraquat SWAT team" to criticize evidence and shift focus to other environmental factors.
"We increasingly know that environmental toxicants from plastics from pesticides are harming our health," Dr. Dorsey said. "Almost all of these are addressable; the only question is whether we have the political will to do so."