Another obstacle on the way to Mars? Staying in space accelerates the destruction of red blood cells

Even the first astronauts were diagnosed with anemia, but its exact causes and course remained a mystery. A study by Canadian researchers sheds new light on this problem.

The list of “occupational diseases” accompanying professional astronauts has many items. A long stay in microgravity conditions promotes weight loss, muscle atrophy, cardiovascular weakness, bone loss, brain damage, and anemia. Understanding each of these issues could prove crucial to the return of humans to the moon and of the crew expeditions to Mars.

A new study published in Nature Medicine prepared by a team of Hakim Louati and Guy Trudel from the Faculties of Medicine and Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa. Scientists conducted a long-term observation of 14 astronauts who spent at least six months aboard the International Space Station. Based on the samples of exhaled air and its carbon dioxide, it was estimated that their red blood cells – responsible for supplying all cells with oxygen – died by 54 percent. faster than average.

Our bodies normally produce and destroy two million red blood cells every second. According to a discovery by Canadians, about three million blood cells are lost in astronauts at the same time, regardless of age and gender. The effects of a stay in space are reversible, but the human body usually needs many months to regain full balance.

As Trudel explains, “Fortunately, the reduced red blood cell count is not a problem in space when the body is weightless.” However, he adds, “when landing on Earth or another globe, temporary anemia affects energy, endurance and strength, which can jeopardize the mission objectives. The effects are therefore not felt until after landing and the body has to deal with gravity again.”

The acquired knowledge should be taken into account in future planning long missions, especially a manned expedition to Mars. The more that we still have no idea how the body will behave if it is forced to accelerate the exchange of erythrocytes for a longer period than six months.

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