What Are Everyday Plastics Doing to Your Brain? (And How to Choose the Best Ones)

Everyday Plastics

While some people may joke that we live in a “plastic” world, referring to materialism, the truth is we quite literally live in a world filled with plastic. Indeed, a recent study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund found that humans consume 2,000 tiny bits of plastic every week—an amount roughly equivalent to the size of a credit card! What is all that plastic doing to your brain?

Globally, plastic production was estimated to be 390.7 million metric tons in 2021, and it continues to increase, according to the most recent data. At that rate, it’s no surprise that plastic has infiltrated our lives in profound ways. From the moment we wake to the moment we go to sleep, we are in contact with plastics. Plastic has been detected in our food, air, and water—in marine life, animals, and even in our bodies.

Concern over how plastics are affecting human health is growing. Human research conducted in 2022 found microplastics in the blood of 80% of individuals tested—and a recent animal study determined microplastics penetrate across the blood-brain barrier and negatively impact brain cells for the first time.

Research found microplastics in the blood of 80% of individuals tested—and a recent animal study determined microplastics penetrate across the blood-brain barrier and negatively impact brain cells. Click To Tweet

Here’s how plastic may be affecting your brain and body—and what you can do to reduce plastic exposure in the food you consume.


Microplastics (plastics smaller than 5mm) and nanoplastics (1 to 100 nm in size) have made their way into our world from a number of sources—airborne fragments from tires and textiles, degraded plastic waste, marine coatings, microbeads from personal care products, and more. Microplastics have now been detected in the most remote places on earth, reports have found, including the summits of Mt. Everest to the deepest parts of the oceans in the Mariana Trench.

Additionally, the heavy use of plastic food packaging—including containers, plastic bottles, disposable cups, infant bottles and pacifiers, plastic-coated paper goods, and metal products, as well as plastic baggies and wraps—exposes us to microplastics resulting from plastic flaking and leaching.


Scientists have found microplastics in every organ of marine fish, including their brains, and evidence of microplastics in the brains of mammals. One 2020 study looked at the neurotoxic effects of micro- and nanoplastics in different species, as well as in vitro, and in combining all of the data, made some conclusions. The study suggested micro- and nanoplastics in the body can cause oxidative stress, potentially resulting in damage to cells and an increased likelihood of developing neuronal damage.  Also, it stated that micro- and nanoplastics may alter neurotransmitter levels, which may contribute to mood and behavioral changes.

Another 2021 study examined the gut-brain axis effects of micro- and nanoplastics in mammals. It found that these microscopic plastics could disrupt the balance of gut microflora and potentially cause damage to the intestinal wall. And although it has not been proven, the study underscores the danger of microplastics reaching the brain while also compromising gut health and how that combination might impact the healthy function of the central nervous system.

The study showing that micro- and nanoplastics cross the blood-brain barrier in animals also found that plastics negatively impact neuronal cells in the brain. In the presence of foreign microplastics, brain cells essentially killed themselves. While more research is needed on humans, this finding is particularly concerning—especially in light of the research mentioned above showing the presence of microplastics in human blood—and that a 2022 study found microplastics affected hippocampal learning and memory in mice.


You can protect the health of your brain and body by reducing your plastic use.

1. Switch from plastic to glass, stainless steel, and ceramics.

When it comes to storing food and drinking beverages on the go, instead of using even the safer plastics, switch to the safest container materials available such as glass (Pyrex), ceramic (be sure it’s lead-free), and stainless steel. Stop using cling wrap (use tin foil instead, if you must). For the plastics you do have in the kitchen, hand wash them to slow wear and tear and minimize leaching. When they are worn and scratched, recycle them.

2. Avoid plastic tea bags.

Here’s a surprise: Microplastics are found in a number of tea bags. And they leach at an unfathomable rate. So, check to be sure your favorite tea brand does not use any plastics in its tea bags. Choose plastic-free tea bags or loose tea instead.

3. Don’t heat food in plastic containers.

Stop using plastic containers to heat food. No plastic is foolproof at higher temperatures. Instead, use glass or ceramic storage or dishware. Bring your own metal, reusable cup to your favorite coffee spot instead of taking it to go in a plastic-lined paper cup.

4. Minimize plastic containers and bags.

When shopping, bring your own canvas bags and baggies to hold your fresh produce and haul your groceries home. Buy items in bulk whenever possible rather than packaged items.


It’s important to educate yourself about the plastics you interact with daily. At the bottom of most plastic products, you will see a recycling triangle with a number, known as the “resin identification code.” It ranges from 1 to 7. The number tells you what type of plastic is used in the item. Some are clearly safer than others. Here’s a quick cheat sheet on the codes to help you avoid the most problematic plastics:

  1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – used for single-use plastic water and drink bottles and condiment containers. Generally safe, but keep cool (at room temp or below) to avoid leaching. Recyclable.
  1. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) – used for milk and water jugs, shampoo, and some plastic bags. One of the safest plastics for food. Recyclable.
  1. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – used for clear food packaging, cling wrap, some squeeze bottles, peanut butter containers, and some cooking oils. Potentially harmful and the least recyclable plastic due to additives. May contain other toxins associated with birth defects, learning issues, hormone problems, and even cancer. A good one to avoid.
  2. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) – used for plastic bags, squeeze bottles, and bread and frozen food packaging. Generally safe. Reusable.
  3. Polypropylene (PP) – used for potato chip bags, baby bottles, straws, clouded plastic containers, and yogurt containers. Safe and better able to withstand heat and exposure to acids or grease. Reusable.
  4. Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS) – used for disposable food containers, plates, and disposable cups. Not recyclable. Short-term exposure health risks are not clear. Long-term exposure is associated with nervous system damage. Avoid if possible, and do not heat.
  5. Other – a catchall for what doesn’t fit into other categories. May include polycarbonate, polylactide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon—as well as BPA. Due to the uncertainty of this ID and what may be used, good to avoid. Not recyclable.

Overall, as part of a brain-healthy life, it’s best to limit your exposure to plastics and use plastic products that are safer than others.

Brain health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Just what I have been asking for… good info on plastics..

    question should any plastic ever be microwaved.. what does it do to plastic? how cold can plastic get?

    so to be sure? all plastic that changes in texture, like on plastic chairs, that type of flaking off becomes damaging plastic particles? WOW!

    what happens when trash is burned with plastic..

    THANKS for this ….. finally the numbers make sense 1-7.. now I know mre than before..

    Comment by jolanda bassi — June 23, 2023 @ 4:01 AM

  2. Thank you for the update on plastics. The study is very alarming. I have often wondered about the water bottles you buy at the store. They are extruded from hot plastic and the water is injected in. There must be tons of plastic in them and more probably in soda / juice drinks because of the additional chemicals. What a world we have created!!!!!

    Comment by scott ettinger — June 23, 2023 @ 6:43 AM

  3. This information is so vital, and should be made available y every to shopper/ consumer. They control what the manufacturers make or not make.

    Comment by Hemant Parekh — June 23, 2023 @ 11:05 AM

  4. Thank you.

    Comment by Jane Jones — June 23, 2023 @ 1:55 PM

  5. I am very grateful for this article. I thought I was doing ok with plastic toxicity because I never use plastic wrap. I recycle all my plastic, and wash my plastic freezer bags. Now I also have to consider my plastic shoes.
    Thank you

    Comment by Jennifer Timmerman — June 24, 2023 @ 9:48 AM

  6. excellent information!

    Comment by Douglas Morris — July 12, 2023 @ 10:02 AM

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