A new study revealed that the space radiation to which that astronauts are exposed during prolonged missions has a lesser impact on their muscle but bones are still affected. Researchers found that the mix of radiation and microgravity can lead to significant bone loss in space travelers.
Past studies have suggested that radiation could be behind both muscle and bone loss in microgravity. However, the latest research has just proven that the theory may not be entirely accurate.
A group of scientists at the VCU School of Engineering were able to simulate space conditions and found that radiation does not lead to muscle loss, but it can spur bone loss in the long run.
Lead author Henry J Donahue, PhD explained that bones need to be stimulated to build more density. In microgravity, there’s little to no stimulation, so there’s no need to get stronger bones. In other words, in space, the body won’t deploy resources to build bones.
The research team analyzed mice’s bone and muscle health in microgravity conditions. The animals’ movements were restricted. Another group of mice were exposed to space radiation.
Space Radiation Alone Does Not Affect Astronauts’ Muscle
Scientists found that microgravity can lead to both muscle and bone losses while radiation alone seemed to not affect the bone, but make it more prone to problems in microgravity.
Study authors explained that microgravity paired with radiation can have the same effect on bone and muscle tissues as aging has on people’s bodies.
Older people ‘fall more, they break their bones more,
Dr. Donahue said.
This is because their bones have a lower density due to age-related bone loss.
The team is confident that their findings could be put to good use by medical research in a bid to address old-age health issues. As a follow-up, researchers plan to see if microgravity and space radiation can affect the human body on a genetic level.