New research reveals a concerning link between nanoplastics, microscopic particles derived from everyday plastic items, and proteins associated with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. These minuscule particles, already pervasive in soil, water, and the food supply, may pose a significant threat as the next toxin contributing to a surge in neurodegenerative diseases. The study, conducted by Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and the Department of Chemistry at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, highlights the binding of polystyrene nanoparticles—commonly found in plastic cups and utensils—to alpha-synuclein, a protein implicated in Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia.
The unexpected discovery revealed a strong connection between plastic and protein accumulation within neuron lysosomes, which are cellular organelles responsible for breaking down waste materials. Andrew West, the principal investigator of the study, expressed concern about the potential rise of these contaminants in water and food, emphasizing the need to address this new toxin challenge concerning Parkinson’s disease risk.
The study’s findings indicate that nanoplastics may circulate in the air, particularly indoors, posing health risks when inhaled and potentially traveling from the respiratory tract to the blood and brain, increasing the risk of cancer. Dr. Ray Dorsey, a neurology professor at the University of Rochester, suggests that our current health is intricately linked to past environmental conditions and emphasizes the importance of environmental awareness to prevent future diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The study adds weight to the growing body of evidence suggesting that common pollutants may contribute to Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Dorsey advocates for preventive measures, such as reducing plastic use and adopting practices like using carbon filters for water, choosing organic food, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, and employing air purifiers in areas with high air pollution.
In addition to nanoplastics, other toxins like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorpyrifos, and paraquat have been associated with Parkinson’s disease. Despite some bans and proposed regulations, these toxins persist in various environments, emphasizing the need for political will to address and mitigate environmental risks. The study underscores the urgency of understanding and addressing the potential toxic threat posed by nanoplastics to curb the rising incidence of neurodegenerative diseases.