How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?

How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?
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How many plastic particles per serving have been found in the fish muscle itself?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Microplastic pollution of our waterways may not just represent a threat to marine ecosystems but also to human health. “It is evident that humans are exposed to…microplastic pollutants in seafood,” which may create a food safety risk. But, is there some seafood less contaminated than others?

The first published study looked at mollusks. Eating an average serving of mussels, you consume around 90 plastic particles, whereas an average serving of oysters may contain only around 50. “As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 [swallowed] microplastics per year” — though we don’t yet know what kind of risk this would carry. Of course, “due to their “persistent nature, microplastic abundance” is only going to get worse.

“It is inevitable that humans eating seafood will ingest at least some microplastics, particularly [when the entire creature is consumed, such as mussels, oysters, and small fish. So, what, like sardines? We didn’t know… until now. “Contamination with microplastics and mesoplastics,” which are like little pieces of plastic larger than a millimeter. They looked at 20 brands of canned sardines from 13 countries over four continents, and only found plastic particles in about one in five. They suggested the disparity may have been due to improper gutting in the contaminated samples. But in mammals, at least, ingested microplastics can get through the gut wall and circulate throughout the body, and even cross the placental barrier. So, do microplastics actually make it into the muscles of fish, like a fish fillet? Let’s find out.

If you compare the level of microplastics in eviscerated flesh versus the organs, surprisingly, sometimes the flesh actually contained higher microplastic loads than the excised organs, which highlights that evisceration does not necessarily eliminate the risk of microplastic intake by consumers. Microplastics of all “colors, shapes, and sizes were detected in all investigated fish muscle samples.” So, they do actually get into the flesh. So, the average intake of microplastics from eating flathead, grouper, shrimp, scad, or barracuda may be in the hundreds per 300 gram serving, or just in the dozens of plastic particles in a two-ounce child serving. Besides the plastic itself, the particles may release absorbed pollutants like PCBs, and also release plastics chemical additives like BPA, which collectively may cause hormone disruption, cancer risk, and DNA damage. “Hence, although there is no standard tolerable dose for [microplastics] ingestion as well as information on exact toxicity of different plastic types in the human body, taking…weekly [servings] of these kinds of fish [may] threaten the health of consumers (especially vulnerable groups including pregnant and breastfeeding women and children).”

In the US, “anthropogenic debris,” meaning man-made materials, were found in a quarter of individual fish and in two-thirds of all fish species tested, and also about a third of individual shellfish samples, demonstrating that “man-made debris has infiltrated” the aquatic food chain “up to the level of humans via seafood. Because [this] debris is associated with a cocktail of… pollutants,…this…[validates the] concern that the “debris may be transferring [these chemicals] to humans via diets containing fish or shellfish, raising important questions regarding the bioaccumulation and biomagnification of chemicals, and consequences for human health.” Now, this study also included non-plastic debris, like foams, film, and fibers, but we know now that the ingestion of microplastics “appears to be a widespread and pervasive phenomenon” across a number of commercially important mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.

So: “The potential for humans, as top predators, to consume microplastics as contaminants in seafood is very real, and its implications for health need to be considered… Despite the existence of considerable uncertainties and unknowns, there [may already be] a compelling case for urgent actions to identify, control, and, where possible, eliminate key sources of microplastics before they [ever make it to our oceans.]”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Oregon State University via flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Microplastic pollution of our waterways may not just represent a threat to marine ecosystems but also to human health. “It is evident that humans are exposed to…microplastic pollutants in seafood,” which may create a food safety risk. But, is there some seafood less contaminated than others?

The first published study looked at mollusks. Eating an average serving of mussels, you consume around 90 plastic particles, whereas an average serving of oysters may contain only around 50. “As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 [swallowed] microplastics per year” — though we don’t yet know what kind of risk this would carry. Of course, “due to their “persistent nature, microplastic abundance” is only going to get worse.

“It is inevitable that humans eating seafood will ingest at least some microplastics, particularly [when the entire creature is consumed, such as mussels, oysters, and small fish. So, what, like sardines? We didn’t know… until now. “Contamination with microplastics and mesoplastics,” which are like little pieces of plastic larger than a millimeter. They looked at 20 brands of canned sardines from 13 countries over four continents, and only found plastic particles in about one in five. They suggested the disparity may have been due to improper gutting in the contaminated samples. But in mammals, at least, ingested microplastics can get through the gut wall and circulate throughout the body, and even cross the placental barrier. So, do microplastics actually make it into the muscles of fish, like a fish fillet? Let’s find out.

If you compare the level of microplastics in eviscerated flesh versus the organs, surprisingly, sometimes the flesh actually contained higher microplastic loads than the excised organs, which highlights that evisceration does not necessarily eliminate the risk of microplastic intake by consumers. Microplastics of all “colors, shapes, and sizes were detected in all investigated fish muscle samples.” So, they do actually get into the flesh. So, the average intake of microplastics from eating flathead, grouper, shrimp, scad, or barracuda may be in the hundreds per 300 gram serving, or just in the dozens of plastic particles in a two-ounce child serving. Besides the plastic itself, the particles may release absorbed pollutants like PCBs, and also release plastics chemical additives like BPA, which collectively may cause hormone disruption, cancer risk, and DNA damage. “Hence, although there is no standard tolerable dose for [microplastics] ingestion as well as information on exact toxicity of different plastic types in the human body, taking…weekly [servings] of these kinds of fish [may] threaten the health of consumers (especially vulnerable groups including pregnant and breastfeeding women and children).”

In the US, “anthropogenic debris,” meaning man-made materials, were found in a quarter of individual fish and in two-thirds of all fish species tested, and also about a third of individual shellfish samples, demonstrating that “man-made debris has infiltrated” the aquatic food chain “up to the level of humans via seafood. Because [this] debris is associated with a cocktail of… pollutants,…this…[validates the] concern that the “debris may be transferring [these chemicals] to humans via diets containing fish or shellfish, raising important questions regarding the bioaccumulation and biomagnification of chemicals, and consequences for human health.” Now, this study also included non-plastic debris, like foams, film, and fibers, but we know now that the ingestion of microplastics “appears to be a widespread and pervasive phenomenon” across a number of commercially important mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.

So: “The potential for humans, as top predators, to consume microplastics as contaminants in seafood is very real, and its implications for health need to be considered… Despite the existence of considerable uncertainties and unknowns, there [may already be] a compelling case for urgent actions to identify, control, and, where possible, eliminate key sources of microplastics before they [ever make it to our oceans.]”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Oregon State University via flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

This the final video in a three-part series. Here are the first two, in case you missed them: Microplastic Contamination & Seafood Safety and Are Microplastics in Seafood a Cancer Risk?

This isn’t the first time I’ve touched on the issue of seafood and chemical pollutants:

But what about the “benefits” we are told about fish? See Omega 3s & the Eskimo Fish Tale and Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

49 responses to “How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?

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  1. None of my sushi eating friends and coworkers are going to want to hear about this. I suppose if knowledge of heavy metal, PCB and POP’s contamination isn’t going to change their dietary, micro plastic particle contamination isn’t either.

    It is frightening what humans as a species are doing to the world.

    We need to replace our decisions making criteria from quarterly sales and profit projections to the Seventh Generation Principle, and soon.

    1. Even vegans eat several different rolls of sushi aka vinegared rice. Not all of it contains fish but then most people confuse sushi with sashimi.

    2. Well, the global human population has doubled in the past 45 years. A blink of the evolutionary eye. And 60% of the remaining species have been killed. So what exactly are you suggesting we do?

      1. Blair,

        That is a very good question.

        If human beings were cancer cells – we could use a “doubling time” model about us.

      2. Blair, Yes, good point..

        Anyone with a basic understanding of math realizes that one can’t have exponential population growth in an environment with finite resources!
        There appears to be no easy solution, in which case, Nature has her own way of handling situations like this.

        1. Darwin, there are thousands of easy solutions, but they don’t get done because of a warped sense of priorities. We can talk population control when humans actually first try changing their cancer-like actions. As for nature, she’s a little too patient with us, that just isn’t gonna cut it. Things need to change now because we’re not only destroying ourselves, we’re destroying the entire planet and all other life on it and the most innocence life is suffering horrifically in the process.

          To me it seems easier for us to think of population as an excuse to not take immediate action and the excuse is a welcomed one because immediate action seems overwhelming, hopeless due to an uncaring public, and it hinders our current lifestyles.

      3. Blair, I would suggest that we all stop eating animals including fish, stop breeding animals for human use from food to clothing to entertainment (including “pets” …love the ones who are here, start spaying and neutering), stop taking animals out of the wild including fish, stop burning down rain forests for stupid freaking palm oil, stop burning down rainforests for animal agriculture, ban horrible chemicals like oxybenzone and similar chemicals to it which are destroying the coral reefs, stop dumping industrial waste into the ocean, reduce plastic production as much as possible, ban leaded bullets, ban plastic bags, etc. etc.. etc… There really isn’t a lot of room for wondering, the answers are right in front of our easily distracted little faces, there is a LOT we should be doing differently, the problem is basically what Joe said, it’s all about warped priorities along with delusion.

    3. Totally agree, Joe.

      So if the contamination of fish and other negative impacts on health (and environment, and wildlife, including of course, the fish!) that come from eating fish doesn’t discourage them from their sushi-eating habits, maybe migratory skin worms will: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/migratory-skin-worms-from-sushi/

      Also, vegan sushi is amazing! I actually never had sushi prior to going vegan and after learning about the skin worms and more, I’m glad! Tip for those who make sushi (hopefully vegan): to use whole grain rice, just get short grain brown rice, overcook it until it gets sticky and starchy, and voila! whole grain sticky rice! Remember to refrigerate before making a sushi wrap because the warm rice gets all seaweedy…

  2. Joe, my veggie eating friends are not going to want to hear about this either. It’s everywhere, fish, plant (organic, non-organic, both) animal, waterways, soils. The first link here shows a small map of world’s oceans and the various degrees of plastic contamination. The other two links I include because as a vegetable eater, I am concerned with the plastics we ingest along with the produce.

    https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/december-2018january-2019/microplastic-contamination-of-the-food-supply-chain/

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/linhanhcat/2019/05/01/microplastics-changing-agricultural-crops/

    https://www.the-scientist.com/the-scientist/organic-fertilizers-rife-with-microplastics-study-30034

  3. While plastics are literally everywhere, it is the process of bioaccumilation that creates most of the problems with toxic substances in the food chain. Bioaccumulation is the gradual accumulation of substances, such as pesticides, or other chemicals in an organism. These substances become more and more concentrated in higher levels the farther up the food chain. And with humans at the top of the food chain we have to be aware of what is happening to make a conscious decision not to participate. In that respect, humans are lucky as the animals down the food chain do not understand ‘plastic’. It is up to us to think of the animals and plants too.

    Buy only natural fiber clothing please. It is the greatest thing you can do to stop the spread of plastic lint, not only in the environment but also in your homes where we breathe the stuff.

    1. I reviewed the video about ALS up in the Doctor’s Note above. The neurotoxin studied here is BMAA and the word substituted for bioaccumulation is Biomagnification. Much of the BMAA seems to be caused by blue-green algae, found everywhere. It follows the food chain up from fruit bats to humans, but also from small, lacustrine fish to larger fish to humans. Clearly it’s best to stay away from both lake and oceanic sea foods these days.

      Gotta love this NF.org website. All the health and diet caveats you need in one location.

    1. so are microplastics in fish oil tablets?
      ——————————————————
      Seems everyone is treating your question as rhetorical. ‘-)
      … or maybe no one knows.

      Anyway, good question.

  4. Thanks Jimbo. Did you check out the Forbes link I posted? Seems that some soils are accuulating greater amounts of plastic than ocean basins. And, they found in some trials that the polyester fibers had an effect on the growth of the spring onions. Maybe one day those polyester clothes will be included in fertilizer formulas.

  5. Is this re ocean caught fish? How about steelhead caught in the “wild and scenic” rivers of the Pacific Northwest? Do all our fish migrate to the ocean? How about lake fish, like the ones planted in Oregon lakes?

  6. Off the subject, but the discussion on the Dr. How’s Your Poop (Dr. Oz) show today is “The Truth About French Fries.” It seems he’s hard up for topics. (No, I didn’t tune in.)

    1. I only watched 10 minutes during my coffee break . Dr Oz was very impressed with the pastrami deep fried spring rolls . I kept wanting him to say something , like this is not healthy , but he never did . He sold out long ago .

        1. Money is the power, and until corporate profits are affected, the companies won’t care. Whatever costs they incur will be passed on to the consumer.

          Without real solutions to our waste management issues may be the “plague” that wipes this society out. Mother nature will keep on rocking, with or without us.

      1. Deep fried anything seems like deserving of a health reminder.

        I am surprised hearing that.

        I don’t think it is easy being a celebrity doctor at all and I think it is much harder being a television celebrity.

  7. I get how fish can be eating these microplastics. I understand that shellfish can be housing these things, so that we would be consuming them also. But I can’t understand how they can be getting into the flesh of fish. How is it getting through the digestive system and not being excreted and being made into a part of the body? I am reading that it is not just the chemicals that can tag along that are being found, but the actual MP itself. Am I wrong here?

  8. Are raw nuts and seeds and protease inhibitors an issue to be concerned about? Under what circumstances would it be an issue for plant only eaters? Does blanching get rid of these inhibitors? What about soaking? Do these processes oxidise the lipids to a significant level?

    1. Would ingesting protease inhibitors with a meal trick the body into believing that it has eaten a high protein meal? Protein modulates your appetite. Perhaps how much digestive enzymes you release to digest your meal has something to do with appetite control. The inhibitors impair your protein breakdown by disrupting the enzymatic ability of the digestive enzymes. The pancreas secretes more enzymes than it otherwise would and perhaps the body believes it has eaten more protein than it has. What effect would this have on the pancreas if you do it every day? Would it make it larger and tire it out?

    2. You asked about eating raw nuts and seed and if protease inhibitors are an issue. I did a thorough review of this question and this was the most helpful article which I think you’ll find reassuring: https://jfoodprotection.org/doi/pdf/10.4315/0362-028X-50.2.161
      Protease Inhibitors in Processed Plant Foods “Protease inhibitors in some unprocessed plant foods such as soybean, are of nutritional, physiological and toxicological concern in rats. The trypsin inhibitor levels found in raw soybeans are substantially decreased by the processing conditions used to isolate soy proteins and those used in the further manufacture of human foods from these protein preparations. The resulting low levels of trypsin inhibitors are not of nutritional importance in experimental animals or humans.”
      Bottom line seeds and most nuts roasted or raw are safe to eat, although in some cases caution needs to be used for raw peanuts due to possible contamination with a mold called Aspergillus flavus which produces a chemical called aflatoxin.

  9. I would like to see a study done that measures how much micro-plastic humans have accumulated. I’m presuming a human healthy gut is different from a fish gut, thus the potential for walling off any gut borne plastics should be greater.

    On another note, industrial hemp shows great promise for creating bio-degradable plastics (disclaimer: I am invested in a HEMP stock) and knowing it would take years for the current levels of plastic pollution to degrade, I would hope bio-degradables would become the norm sooner rather than later… or never.

    1. Lonie,

      I understand that there is a difference between biodegradable and compostable plastic. The former consists of small particles of plastic, held together with organic binders which break down, releasing plastic particles; the later actually decomposes with no plastic break down products or residues. Do you know what type of plastics hemp is used to make?

      1. Dr. J.

        One of the more famous hemp (+ other stuff) plastics was the one where Henry Ford made a car out of Hemp plastic. Not only that but he fueled the car with hemp bio-fuel. The video showed a man taking a sledge hammer to the trunk lid and it bounced back without leaving a dent.

        This was in 1941. Then WWII broke out and everything turned to war production. Hemp production was encouraged as it was heavily used in the war effort. Then, in the 1950s for some unknown reason, industrial hemp was outlawed in the U.S.

        Sorry I don’t have a link to the Ford car video… I’ve had problems with three computers lately and in the process I’ve lost all my links to a library of health and better living data I had accumulated.

        Most of it was still relevant even though much of it was a few years old. Guess it’s a good thing as my new library will be stocked with the newest data. ‘-)

        1. Data is data, being older doesn’t make it less relevant at all, the only thing that makes something less relevant is if there are new findings that deem it so.

          That is really interesting, inspiring, and disappointing about the hemp. It’s so ironic that we have so many sustainable options to work with and we just don’t for nonsensical reasons.

          1. Data is data, being older doesn’t make it less relevant at all, the only thing that makes something less relevant is if there are new findings that deem it so.
            —————————————-
            That’s true, and you know what they say, once it’s on the Internet it’s there forever… so maybe I’ll run across any of the old relevant stuff again.

            Completely agree that society is slow to adopt sustainable but we may be changing faster now. Just read today that electric cars should be cheaper than gas powered ones by 2022.

            Still, I would rather we bypassed the electric cycle and went straight to Hydrogen powered. Electric vehicles currently have a large carbon footprint in manufacturing. But then, of course… Hydrogen fuel infrastructure would initially have a large carbon footprint I would imagine.

      2. Do you know what type of plastics hemp is used to make?
        ——————————————
        Dr J. the link below doesn’t deal with industrial hemp directly but is interesting in that it describes the financial aspect of creating bio-plastic.

        The good news is they are talking about using high fructose corn syrup. If we could turn that stuff into plastic bottles rather than plasticized arteries, just think how many kids could grow up without constant medical issues.

        https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-05/uow-ipm050319.php

  10. And this is how androids are made! Ha Ha.

    God I love this important information. Thank you Dr. Greger.

    A proud and healthy monthly supporter of Nutritionfacts.org

    1. And this is how androids are made! Ha Ha.
      ———————————————————
      Not sure how android is made, but can’t wait until android 9 (Pie) is available for download to my Android phone. ‘-)

    1. Not exactly a lot of science there though, is there? Just personal opinion and speculation. But then, that is the low carb high protein fad in a nutshell I suppose.

      ‘There is a widespread myth that we have to be careful about what we eat so that we do not cause protein deficiency. We know today that it is virtually impossible to design a calorie-sufficient diet, whether it is based on meat, fish, eggs, various vegetarian diets or even unprocessed whole natural plant foods, which is lacking in protein and any of the amino acids. The body is capable of taking incomplete proteins and making them complete by utilizing the amino acid recycling mechanism. The majority of amino acids absorbed from the intestinal tract are derived from recycled body protein. Research shows that high levels of animal protein intake may significantly increase the risk of premature mortality from all causes, among them cardiovascular diseases, cancer and type 2 diabetes.’
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29786804

      https://nutritionfacts.org/?s=protein

  11. Has Dr G addressed the question of plastic particles in sea salt? Leaving aside the Himalayan and other ancient deposits of “sea salt”, today’s sea salt production must be incorporating plastic particles into the finished product. It can’t be avoided in the sea water and must be extremely difficult (or impossible) to filter out of the water in the evaporation/production process.

  12. Speaking of plastics, here’s a fun fact… When my cousin worked at Tim Hortins, she was disturbed to see that when you blend the iced coffee, tons of little plastic flakes chip off from the inside of the cup during the process and mix into the drink. She was alarmed and asked about it but none of the employees or management cared, they said it was fine and you can’t avoid it. She used to feel bad serving it to people and was really careful not to chip the cup, but said it was impossible not to no matter how careful you were.

  13. What exactly are the least contaminated fishes? The videos make it out to seem like everything is a terrible mistake to eat – which falls in line with traditional vegan philosophy that not-plants are all bad in some way – but all the studies shown seems to point at mollusks and other filter feeders primarily.

    1. msa, I think it is unreasonable to expect a counterpoint to the information provided here.

      The point of the videos is to establish all the clear and present dangers of non plant based foods. It might be counter-productive to that goal to offer amounts of risk since that might lead readers to discard the non plant food danger as being too small to outweigh any benefits.

      1. That is exactly the point. If it actually IS “too small to outweigh any benefits”, then I’d like to know that.

        If the information is presented at varying levels of risk then consumers can make their decisions based on their own lives and decisions. The studies themselves are specifically finding all the different levels among a ton of different fish.

        If all the videos are only “here’s a bad thing, there’s a bad thing” without actual context or level of actual bad, then it’s simply Vegan propaganda by definition. For example, if it really is only significantly shown in filter feeders but the overall tone is “ALL fish are bad” then that’s a misrepresentation. Especially given the fact that the title is “…found in fish FLLETS”, and clams and mollusks aren’t even filleted.

        So what are we learning? That’s not the kind of top/high-level overview of the science I hope to be getting from Dr. Greger. I don’t want to come here just to be fed things that at the end of the day I already believed or would have assumed to be true.

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