Nothing brightens up a cold commute to work like a hot cup of coffee. But daily Starbucks runs might be giving us more in our cups than we ordered.
A recent study into three of the most popular takeaway cups found that coffee cups in particular release more microplastics than previously thought, due to the hot liquids and extra movement we subject them to. But these chemicals have consequences, especially for women’s bodies.
Life Is Plastic, It’s (Not) Fantastic
While we often hear about plastic pollution in the context of environmental preservation, the consequences are closer to home than just our oceans. Microplastics are nothing to play with, and they’re making their way into a lot of what we ingest. Studies are revealing that they’re regularly present in our drinking water, whether bottled or tap, have been found in the meat and milk of farm animals, and have even made their way into fruits and vegetables.
The prevalence of plastics means they make their way through our bodies, including to our reproductive systems. Placentas, lungs, hearts, kidneys, brains and even newborn babies have now been found full of microplastics, and the consequences of exposure could be hormonally devastating.
The Hormonal Link
A study by King’s College suggested that ingesting microplastics puts stress on the immune system over time, and can interfere with women’s hormones and menstrual cycles. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, which can come from plastics as well as a number of other sources like pesticides and cleaning products, artificially increase estrogen by mimicking the hormone.
One of the primary reasons microplastics in particular are so dangerous is BPA, a compound used in manufacturing plastic linked to ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and even breast and cervical cancers. BPA is also a contributor to PCOS, the leading cause of female infertility, which now affects around 10% of U.S. women – that number is expected to rise.
Venti, Grande, or Micro?
There’s no diet on the planet that can keep us totally safe from microplastics. Still, as with many harmful substances, reducing our net exposure to microplastics is key. And a new study suggests our daily lattes may be a place to start. Researchers investigated three of the most common types of takeaway cups and found that just one take-out coffee a week could mean ingesting 90,000 extra plastic particles a year.
During the study, researchers attempted to simulate the life of a typical take-out cup: they used hot liquids, allowed it to sit for various periods of time, and even jostled the cups to simulate the shaking of a delivery driver (or rushed commute). Cups released most of the plastic particles within 5 minutes of contact with liquid, gradually increasing to nearly 2,000 particles by 30 minutes of contact.
The study also compared three different types of cups, including standard coffee take-out cups, heavy-duty cups like those used in fast food restaurants, and thinner plastic cups. Of the three, coffee cups performed the worst, likely due to the fragility of the plastic lining inside the container.
Although microplastics can mean any plastic smaller than 5 millimeters across, most of the particles released were exceptionally small – smaller than 50 micrometers. While this may seem like less of a concern, smaller plastic particles can actually be more dangerous since they can penetrate human cells.
Closing Thoughts: An Ounce of Prevention
While avoiding microplastics altogether is too much of a challenge for anyone who wants to eat food, drink water, or clean their home, it’s realistic and effective to take small steps to minimize your exposure to the worst sources of hormone disruptors. In light of this research, you may want to consider embracing the hassle of a plastic-free reusable coffee mug for your daily latte. Your hormones will thank you.
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