Preventing Muscle Wasting in Space?

File:Astronaut Robert Overmyer on treadmill.jpg Photo of Astronaut Robert Overmyer from NASA, via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently went on a trip to visit the Endeavour space shuttle currently on display in Los Angeles. Seeing the shuttle up close brought back memories of watching the space shuttle launches on TV and the childhood dream of visiting other planets...a dream that also inspires Hollywood to continue to produce movies and TV shows about space exploration. Turns out, The Martian movie may soon become reality. In fact, NASA is working towards sending astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030's. Aside from the technological challenges of sending a shuttle to Mars with enough fuel to come home, such a long journey comes with human challenges such as maintaining physical and mental health as well as how to deal with radiation exposure in deep space.

In a study conducted in 2010 at Marquette University, researchers predicted that muscle loss alone would be a pretty big deal as the astronauts could lose more than 40% of their strength, even if they exercised regularly. Their results were published in The Journal of Physiology. This means by the time they arrived at Mars, they would have a hard time simply moving around. Even more worrisome is the long trip home, after which they may experience difficulty navigating their spacecraft. This is why astronauts in space try to exercise on a regular basis. The International Space Station, for example, has stationary bicycles, treadmills and equipment for weight training exercises.

I was thinking of the issue of muscle wasting when I came across an article published by researchers at Yamaguchi University in Japan who were interested in whether a dietary antioxidant could help reverse muscle loss that was caused by immobilization. Their results were published this month in Physiological Reports. In this study, the team examined a carotenoid pigment called astaxanthin which has known antioxidant properties. They fed astaxanthin or a placebo to rats for 24 days. Fourteen days into the diet, they immobilized one leg of the animals in a plaster cast. Remarkably, rats fed astaxanthin developed less muscle wasting than those fed a placebo.  Their findings also showed that the carotenoid prevented oxidative stress. Aside from obvious applications in treating people with broken bones, I wonder if astaxanthin might help astronauts?

You can see a prototype of a plane that just might fly on Mars here.

Sources:

Space.com

Shibaguchi T, Yamaguchi Y, Miyaji N, Yoshihara T, Naito H, Goto K, Ohmori D, Yoshioka T, Sugiura T.  Astaxanthin intake attenuates muscle atrophy caused by immobilization in rats. Physiological Reports. 4(15). August 2016. DOI: 10.14814/phy2.12885

More like this

While searching the website of The American Physiological Society, I discovered that there are local chapters of the society all across America. So I have decided to bring highlights from their meetings to you. We will be starting with the Arizona Physiological Society as they just held their…
Image of sheep from Wikimedia Commons Insulin is a major hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. Its main function is to lower sugar by increasing glucose uptake into muscle and fat cells. Insulin resistance is the hallmark of type 2 diabetes and occurs when tissues in the body are not…
It is speculation time. My roommate and I were watching a story this morning on CNN by Sanjay Gupta about how astronauts lose bone mass while in space. One of the limitations with space travel is that because of the absence of gravity, your bones steadily deteriorate. Load bearing exercise is…
Image of a gilthead sea bream by Roberto Pillon - via Wikimedia Commons Similar to humans, muscle growth in fish is increased with exercise. Unlike humans, however, teleost fish are able to continue growing in length as well as weight throughout their lives. This type of meat, I mean muscle,…

Given the effects of zero gravity as discussed here: http://www.space.com/23017-weightlessness.html
it seems at a minimum two spacecraft tethered together to make artificial gravity will be required for long interplanetary voyages. Of couse we may find more damaging changes, which would lead us to using our silicon relatives for exploration. (Since in the next 20 years if you believe Kurzweil they will be as smart as carbon based people.) (Also take a lot less life support, just basically electricity and cooling)