We, the Guinea Pigs: How Plastic is Harming Our Health

Still from
We, The Guinea Pigs
Dorotea Zwolinski
January 25, 2023

Our soaring use of plastic over the past several decades has raised many concerns not only pertaining to its devastating environmental effects, but also to the adverse long-term health effects it may pose to us.  Are the rising number of diseases and disorders in the past decade linked to our increased use of plastic or are these merely unfortunate coincidences? 

THE WHY's 2021 documentary film, We, The Guinea Pigs, seeks to tackle this rather new area of research, by investigating how we are increasingly exposed to hazardous chemicals as a result of our continued use of plastic. We, The Guinea Pigs, links the increased production of plastic to an inexplicable rise in various illnesses and disorders, by unveiling how plastic may be linked to a number of health concerns, including infertility, attention deficit disorders, obesity, and even breast and prostate cancer.  

The film follows several cases of ordinary individuals, including a 40-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer, a mother in her late 20s living with ADHD, and a couple who have been struggling to conceive for several years.  The film introduces prominent researchers who showcase how these health issues are related to a heightened interference of our natural hormone production, from chemicals found in plastic. These chemicals (also known as endocrine-disrupters), can reduce or increase hormone levels, mimic the body's hormone production or completely alter it. 

Our endocrine system is made up of glands located throughout our body, which produce hormones that are responsible for vital bodily functions, such as growth, metabolism regulation, brain development, and reproduction.  The disruption of these functions can have considerable effects on overall human development.  

Plastic Exposure During Pregnancy 

By performing experiments on rats, the researchers in We, The Guinea Pigs demonstrate how consequential the disruption of hormone production can be even in the early stages of pregnancy.  During early pregnancy, the fetal thyroid gland does not produce its own thyroid hormones necessary for brain development and is thus reliant on the mother's thyroid production.  Interference with natural hormone production has been identified to be the root cause of the rise of neurodevelopmental diseases in the past decade. The relationship between plastic exposure and disrupted hormone production demonstrates how severe the effects may be to us even prior to birth.  As researcher Pauliina Damdimopoulo states,

“When a pregnant woman is exposed, endocrine-disrupting chemicals can affect the health of her child and eventual grandchildren. Animal studies show that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can cause DNA modifications that have repercussions across multiple generations.”

There is no doubt that we, in fact, inevitably come into contact with and are exposed to plastic on a daily basis, by breathing in micro and nanoparticles, eating food that comes wrapped in plastic or drinking liquids from plastic water bottles. Recently, scientists have discovered plastic particles trapped deep inside the lungs of patients, in human blood, and in the placenta of pregnant women. Microplastics have been discovered to exist all over the globe, from the depths of the Mariana Trench to the tops of Mount Everest.  Microplastic pollution is now a pervasively global phenomenon, making exposure to it unavoidable.  This makes the concern over health risks associated with our increased usage of plastic all the more significant.  

Plastic and the Growth of Tumours 

Recently, researchers have further uncovered that common chemicals found in most plastic household products, called phthalates, have been linked to the presence of non-cancerous tumours in or around the uterus, called uterine fibroids.  The research study deduced that phthalates might not necessarily be the root cause of their initial development, but they help these tumours grow in size. This can lead to severe symptoms, including reproductive problems, which may eventually require surgery. In some cases, a hysterectomy is needed in order to remove the entire uterus.  Additionally, this new research suggests that even low exposure to certain phthalates can cause neurological complications during pregnancy, as well as lead to cognitive impairment in children.  

We, The Guinea Pigs reveals crucial findings into the detrimental health effects exposure to certain chemicals used in plastics poses to us.  However, as numerous researchers suggest

“More detailed research on how micro and nano plastics affect the structures and processes of the human body, and whether and how they can transform cells and induce carcinogenesis is urgently needed, particularly in light of the exponential increase in plastic production.”

If you would like to watch the film, host a screening, or get more information please contact us at info@thewhy.dk

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