Space travel accelerates aging and weakening of bones

News Photo: Space travel accelerates aging and weakening of bones

THURSDAY August 4, 2022 (HealthDay News)

Astronauts can go into space for weeks or months, and their bones can lose years in that environment.

Long periods in space can irreparably damage bone structure and age parts of the human skeleton for up to 10 years, new research reveals.

Research teams from Germany, the United States and Canada studied 14 men and three women before their spaceflights and at six and 12 months after their return. They measured the density and strength of their tibia and forearm, tibia and radius bones. They also measured the trabecular microstructure inside the bones.

Bone turnover – the assimilation of old bones and their replacement with new ones – was also measured using biomarkers in the astronauts’ blood and urine.

The results, according to the researchers, are disturbing.

Nine of the 17 astronauts had not fully recovered a full year after returning from space. They had a reduction in bone strength and mineral density of up to 2%.

“It may not seem like much, but it corresponds to age-related bone loss of at least a decade,” said study author Anna-Maria Liphardt, a sports scientist at University Hospital of Washington. Erlangen in Germany.

“For those affected, this means they should expect a much earlier onset of osteoporosis and susceptibility to fractures,” she said in a hospital press release.

The way bones aged in space was different from how bones aged on Earth. In space, the internal structure of astronauts’ bones has been affected more than the periosteum, the outer sheath that supplies bones with blood, nerves and cells that help them grow and heal. Some astronauts suffered irreparable damage, according to the study.

“We were able to demonstrate that regeneration is more difficult the longer astronauts have been in space,” Liphardt said.

“Bone turnover is the process by which cells are broken down and new ones are formed,” Liphardt said. “People with higher activity levels have higher bone turnover and the challenge is to maintain those activity levels during space missions.”

This discovery could have an impact on the future of spaceflight to Mars.

“If humans are in space for three years in a row, we also need to keep an eye out for the health risks involved,” Liphardt said. “This already applies today to missions where astronauts are subjected to weightless conditions for typically no more than six months.”

The solution could be to adapt the training and add drugs for those who travel in space.

The International Space Station has a treadmill, an exercise bike and a weight training program, but it is crucial to adapt training programs during spaceflight to better meet the individual needs of astronauts, according to the study.

“Developing new sports equipment that works in weightless conditions and doesn’t take up a lot of space is particularly challenging,” Liphardt said.

Medications such as bisphosphonates, which prevent bone breakdown and are used as a treatment for osteoporosis, can also help.

“Bisphosphonates are already in use by NASA, but we don’t yet know enough about how exactly they work in microgravity,” Liphardt said. “We recommend conducting further systematic research on the combination of medical therapy and physical exercise.”

These discoveries may also be able to help people with chronic diseases on Earth. Some cause muscle and bone loss due to lack of activity.

The results were recently published in the journal Scientific reports.

More information

The American College of Rheumatology has more on bisphosphonate therapy.

SOURCE: Friedrich-Alexander University Hospital Erlangen-Nurnberg, press release, July 29, 2022

By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter

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