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Atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries, is a major cause of death in Western society. Researchers at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Italy discovered that microplastics were present in arterial plaques. People with microplastics in their plaques were 4.5 times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or die after their carotid endarterectomy surgery than those without plastics in their plaque. Atherosclerosis occurs when the arteries become clogged with cholesterol and fats, leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity.

In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that 60% of participants who had undergone a carotid endarterectomy had measurable amounts of polyethylene in the plaques removed from their arteries. Additionally, 12% had polyvinyl chloride in their plaques. Individuals with microplastics in their arterial plaque were significantly more likely to experience cardiovascular events within 34 months post-surgery. Microplastics, which are tiny plastic particles that can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, have been linked to disrupted hormones, impaired immunity, and negative impacts on the gut microbiome.

Dr. Raffaele Marfella, lead author of the study, discussed the significance of the findings in relation to atherosclerosis. The presence of microplastics and nanoplastics in human tissues was observed for the first time in association with cardiovascular disease. The study recruited 304 participants who had undergone a carotid endarterectomy for asymptomatic carotid artery disease. Researchers identified plastic particles in the plaques of a majority of the participants, highlighting the widespread contamination of human tissues with plastic. Individuals with microplastics in their plaques were at a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular events after their surgeries.

Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a board-certified cardiologist and lipidologist, commented on the study’s implications, calling the findings a “terrifying revelation.” The presence of microplastics in arterial plaques raises concerns about the stability of cholesterol plaque and the risk of heart attacks. Understanding the physiological effects of microplastics on blood vessels and developing strategies to address this issue are paramount. Rebecca Fuoco, director of science communications at the Green Science Policy Institute, emphasized the need for research, innovation, and policy action to address the widespread contamination of plastics in the environment and its potential harm to human health. Efforts to reduce plastic use and explore safer alternatives are essential to promote a healthier environment and protect human health.

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