Bone Loss in Astronauts
Reasons why astronauts experience significant bone loss
One of the serious health issues related to space travel is bone loss, otherwise known as osteoporosis. While in space, astronauts experience spaceflight osteopenia, a condition that causes them to lose bone mass on an average of two percent each month. The bone loss normally occurs in the spine, hips, and legs, and after getting back to earth, recovering that loss can require as long as four years.
While growing, a body undergoes remodeling, a process whereby the bone tissue is progressively breaking down and then assembling; bones are continually reshaping themselves comparable to the pressure applied on them. One of the major causes of remodeling is gravity; as the body changes, gravity’s steady mechanical force applied to the skeletal framework likewise changes (Sibonga 2013). Subsequently, the bones need to maintain a specific thickness to support themselves against that pull to remain healthy. However, in space, there is minimal gravity, and in such conditions, the bones aren’t subjected to the pressure of supporting the body against the pull of gravity, which leads to bone mass loss. Other minor reasons that have been attributed to bone loss are diminished physical activity, problematic diet, and perturbed mineral metabolism (Sibonga 2013).
How to alleviate bone loss for astronauts while in space
One solution to help astronauts maintain healthy bone mass is to exercise while in space. Exercise is key in keeping the muscles and bones strong. Hence, astronauts are required to exercise at least two hours every day using restraints to tie themselves to equipment to establish the necessary weight-bearing environment in a weightless environment (Cavanagh et al., 2007). Secondly, studies have found that taking drugs used to treat osteoporosis in older individuals, combined with exercise, effectively maintains bone mass in astronauts taking long-term space flights. Another study showed that gene therapy could be applied to one’s body to help produce extra pleiotrophin, a protein that helps with bone development (Cavanagh et al., 2007). All in all, more studies are in progress to find an easy and effective solution to the bone loss problem for astronauts.
Sibonga, J. D. (2013). Spaceflight-induced bone loss: is there an osteoporosis risk? Current osteoporosis reports, 11(2), 92-98.
Cavanagh, P. R., Licata, A. A., & Rice, A. J. (2007). Exercise and pharmacological countermeasures for bone loss during long-duration space flight. Gravitational and Space Research.
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Anatomy and Physiology 1
When astronauts first started going to space, we noticed that they would come back to Earth with significant bone loss.
This seemed to correlate with how long they had been in space. Discuss reasons for why this may happen and what might be done to alleviate bone loss in this situation.
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