Space travel affects astronauts’ blood and bone.

Space travel affects astronauts' blood and bone.

The Impact of Space Travel on Astronauts’ Health

When we think about astronauts, we often imagine them floating effortlessly in the vast expanse of space. However, space travel comes at a cost to their health. A recent study has revealed that the experience depletes the astronauts’ red blood cells and bone. Luckily, their bodies have the ability to replenish these vital components once they return to Earth. The key to this recovery lies within the fat stored in their bone marrow.

Dr. Guy Trudel, a rehabilitation physician and researcher at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa, explains that astronauts have significantly less fat in their bone marrow about a month after returning to Earth. This fat is believed to be used by the body to replace red blood cells and rebuild lost bone during space travel. Dr. Trudel’s findings build upon his earlier work that discovered astronauts experienced a 54% increase in red blood cell destruction during space travel, a phenomenon known as “space anemia.”

This research is part of a larger project called MARROW, which examines bone marrow health and blood production in space. The Canadian Space Agency provides funding for this important endeavor. Dr. Trudel emphasizes the significance of understanding space-related anemia, as it could affect the energy, endurance, strength, and successful completion of missions when astronauts return to Earth or explore other planets and moons with gravity. By identifying the factors that control this anemia, prevention and treatment methods could be improved.

To delve further into this subject, the researchers conducted MRI scans on the bone marrow of 14 astronauts before and after a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. They discovered a 4.2% decrease in bone marrow fat a month after the astronauts’ return. This decrease gradually returned to normal levels and was closely associated with increased production of red blood cells and restoration of bone.

The connection between bone marrow fat and the production of red blood cells and bone makes sense since red blood cells are created in the bone marrow, and bone cells surround the marrow. Evidently, the body utilizes local bone marrow fat as an energy source to fuel the production of red blood cells and bone. The researchers are eager to investigate this phenomenon further in different clinical conditions here on Earth.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that younger astronauts may have an increased ability to harness energy from bone marrow fat. Additionally, female astronauts demonstrated a higher than expected increase in bone marrow fat after a year. These findings open up possibilities for future research in areas such as osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, aging, and cancer, all of which are associated with increased bone marrow fat.

Dr. Trudel’s work as a rehabilitation physician has given him insights into the impacts of anemia on patients who have experienced muscle and bone loss due to illness and limited mobility. Anemia makes it more challenging for these patients to exercise and recover muscle and bone mass. He hopes that his research will not only benefit astronauts in their space-related immobility but also help people on Earth facing similar challenges. Furthermore, this research may shed light on diseases such as osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, aging, and cancer, all of which have links to increased bone marrow fat.

Dr. Trudel’s significant contributions to understanding space anemia recently earned him the 2023 Compelling Results Award for Human Health in Space, presented jointly by NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, and the American Astronautical Society. The research project received funding from various sources, including the Canadian Space Agency and Dr. Scott Smith, as part of the NASA Biochemical Profile Protocol.

In conclusion, space travel takes a toll on the health of astronauts, depleting their red blood cells and bone. However, researchers have discovered that the body can utilize the fat stored in bone marrow to replenish and rebuild these vital components upon the astronauts’ return to Earth. Understanding space anemia is crucial for the success of space missions and may also have implications for various clinical conditions on Earth. Dr. Trudel’s groundbreaking research provides hope for improved prevention and treatment methods, both for astronauts and those facing similar challenges on our home planet.