Plastics in our body: autoimmune disease linked to breast implants

Plastics in our body

Only fairly recently we have become aware of the dangers of plastics in our environment.
For a long time we thought these plastics would not be of any concern to us. However, invariably, most plastics end up somewhere in the environment: they sit at the bottom of the sea, mix into beach sand, and blow in the wind. They’re also inside us.

It's possible that humans may be consuming anywhere from 39 to 52 thousand microplastic particles a year. With added estimates of how much microplastic might be inhaled, that number is more than 74 thousand.
People who drink only bottled water ingest an additional 90 thousand particles.

When researchers from Johns Hopkins looked at the impact of eating seafood contaminated with microplastics, they too found the accumulated plastic could damage the immune system and upset a gut's balance.

Scientists are scrambling to understand the dose at which microplastics start to have noticeable health effects. Like air pollution or harmful construction materials, those who have more exposure or pre-existing conditions may be less able to tolerate plastic.

A plastic-free diet?

Humans consume microplastics via many channels. We might ingest them while eating seafood, breath them in through the air, or consume food with trace amounts of its plastic packaging.
For this reason, it's difficult to completely avoid them, if not impossible.
Certain lifestyle changes like drinking trap water instead of bottled water would reduce the amount of microplastics a person consumes.
Microfibers were by far the most commonly found type of plastic. Microfibers shed from textiles like nylon and polyester. They often wash off clothes and enter the ecosystem through washing machine wastewater.
Fragments of plastic like those commonly used for bags and straws were the second most common plastic found.
Until recently, we only had looked at environmental (and more specifically sea) pollution by plastics, but by now we should realize that plastic pollution also impacts our own health.

While it's bad enough to ingest microplastics unknowingly by breathing, eating or drinking them, imagine the damage plastic breast implants can do to our body?

Autoimmune symptoms and 'Breast Implant Illness'

Thousands of women have reported health problems after getting breast implants, including muscle and joint pain, chronic fatigue, mental confusion, rashes, dry eyes, and hair loss. These symptoms can suddenly develop right after getting breast implants, or they can develop gradually years later.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved breast implants more than a decade ago, but acknowledged that “studies would need to be larger and longer” to determine if implants could cause the symptoms and diseases many women are reporting.
Many of the women refer to these symptoms and diseases as “breast implant illness,” although most physicians do not consider this term to be a medical diagnosis.

In their safety studies that were used for FDA approval, breast implant companies intentionally excluded women who had a family or personal history of autoimmune disease before getting implants. This is because those women might be more likely to have health problems from the implants.

Unfortunately, most physicians and most women considering implants are unaware of that warning.

What is autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune diseases are conditions where immune cells attack your body. Immune cells usually help our bodies fight off infections and foreign substances. However, when immune cells react to silicone as a foreign substance, that can sometimes cause the body to start an immune response. In some cases, the immune system starts attacking the body. This can result in many different symptoms like joint pain, fatigue, mental confusion, dizziness, fever, and hair loss.
Some women with breast implants report many different symptoms that do not fit with the diagnosis of one specific disease.
Over time, some women develop a pattern of symptoms that are diagnosed as lupus, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Hashimoto’s, or other diseases.

Autoimmune diseases can target organs, such as the brain or liver. They can also involve many tissues, such as muscles or blood. In addition to autoimmune diseases, silicone-related diagnoses include raynaud’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and allergies.

Not all women with breast implants develop these health problems. It is possible that some women are more likely to develop autoimmune symptoms, such as those with a personal or family history of autoimmune disease, allergies, or a compromised immune system.

Women who already had an autoimmune disease before getting breast implants may find that their symptoms got worse after getting breast implants. 

How much evidence do we have?

There is conflicting evidence from studies that examined whether breast implants cause autoimmune disease or symptoms.
Most of the existing studies were funded by implant companies or plastic surgery associations, and they tended to focus on narrowly defined disease diagnoses, rather than the symptoms that many women report.
Some studies even relied on hospital or medical records. These types of studies do not accurately capture the magnitude of the issue because most women who experience symptoms are not hospitalized and do not receive specific diagnoses. Despite those challenges, there is a growing body of evidence that breast implants can cause autoimmune symptoms and connective tissue symptoms in some women.

In 2001, FDA scientists reported that women whose ruptured breast implants leaked silicone outside the scar tissue surrounding the implant were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a painful soft-tissue disease), pulmonary fibrosis, and connective-tissue diseases.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain in the body as well as fatigue. Little is known about how fibromyalgia develops, but researchers think it is an immune system problem.

In 2004, scientists from the American Cancer Institute reported that women with breast implants were more likely to have autoimmune symptoms. However, because symptoms were self-reported, the scientists concluded that more reliable research was needed to determine if breast implants caused specific symptoms or diseases.

In 2018, researchers found that “silicone implants are associated with an increased risk of certain rare harms.” For example, certain autoimmune diseases (such as Sjögren syndrome) increased by as much as 800%, among women with breast implants. 

In that same year, another study of more than 56 thousand Israeli women, including more than 11 thousand with breast implants, was published. Women with breast implants were significantly more likely to develop several autoimmune and rheumatic disorders, in particular sarcoidosis, systemic sclerosis, and Sjögren’s syndrome.

In recent years, the discovery that breast implants could cause cancer of the immune system (Breast Implant Associated-Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma , BIA-ALCL) supports the claim that breast implants can have a harmful impact on the immune system.

Treatment

If you already have breast implants and have any of the above symptoms that are not responding to other treatment options, research suggests that you may want to consider permanently removing your breast implants. Although there is no guarantee that removing your breast implants will improve your autoimmune symptoms, studies show that it is a very reasonable strategy.

Many women with breast implants report that these symptoms greatly improved or completely disappeared after their breast implants were removed and not replaced.
A study published in 2013, by researchers in the Netherlands, found that 69% of women with autoimmune symptoms who had their implants removed experienced reduction in symptoms and almost 20% experienced full recoveries after explantation.

A meta-analysis, which combined results from several studies, found that on average, 3 out of 4 women who removed their silicone breast implants saw improvement in their symptoms.

Conclusion

Although well-designed large and long-term studies are lacking, for decades women with implants have reported developing autoimmune symptoms that later improved when their implants were removed.

If you already have an autoimmune disease, breast implants could make your symptoms worse. If autoimmune disease runs in your family, you may be at increased risk of developing an autoimmune reaction to breast implants.

Want to know more? Here's a good one to start at: Healing Breast Implant Illness

 

 

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