The Effect Of Space Travel On Astronauts’ Bones Is More Serious Than Expected
It is a known fact, microgravity has effects on several organs of the human body. As such, astronauts are on the front line. Indeed, in recent years, several studies have pointed to ailments related to space travel. Ailments that affect astronauts due to the conditions prevailing there, mainly due to microgravity: blood circulation problem, loss of bone density, among others.
Precisely, concerning this famous loss of bone density, a recent study has just revealed a very alarming situation. By studying part of the skeleton of a group of astronauts – before, during, and after a mission to the International Space Station – the researchers found that the bone density of some of them has not returned to normal. And this, even after returning to Earth for a year.
According to the researchers, the longer astronauts stay in space, the longer it takes to recover from this loss of bone density.
Loss of bone density comparable to osteoporosis
As a reminder, osteoporosis is a disease affecting the bones, associating both a decrease in bone density and changes in the architecture of these organs. Usually this disease affects older people, making the bones more fragile and less resistant. The joints are the parts of the skeleton most prone to this disease, hence certain characteristic fractures such as those of the femoral neck, vertebrae, or even the wrist.
In this study, the researchers looked at the cases of 17 astronauts who carried out a mission on the ISS. Their elbows and wrists were thus scanned before, during and on their return from their mission in order to assess their bone densities. Conclusion, the bone loss is comparable to what these joints would have suffered while aging for several decades on Earth. But that’s not the worst news.
Indeed, the researchers discovered that in 9 of the astronauts whose joints were studied, their body took more than a year to recover from the damage. Damage affecting both microstructure and bone density. For information, the astronauts spent between 4 and 7 months in space.
Thus, the more time we spend in space, the more we are exposed to this risk, explain the researchers.
This is a risk that must be taken into account during interplanetary journeys planned within a decade, to Mars or to the Moon, for example. Hopefully by then we will find a way to limit the damage.