Scientists have long known that life on Earth outer space adversely affect the physique of astronauts. One of them, make them suffer anemia.
Since the first space mission, astronaut crews have returned to Earth with anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to body tissues.
Health experts are confused as to how this happened. But a new study published in the scientific journal Nature and funded by Canada’s national space agency, CSA, reveals a mechanism that contributes to this potentially dangerous condition.
Quoted from Pop Science, of the more than 35 trillion red blood cells in the healthy adult human body, at least 2 million of them are created and hemolyzed or destroyed every second.
But in outer space, about 3 million red blood cells are destroyed every second, causing astronaut lost about 54% more blood cells than when they were on Earth.
“Therefore, when astronauts return to Earth, they will be treated like injured people. We wanted to know how quickly they recovered, and how complete the recovery was,” said study lead author Guy Trudel, a rehabilitation physician and researcher at Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa.
Long term anemia
Initially, this anemia was thought to be temporary as it is characterized by a 10 to 12% decrease in red blood cell count during the astronaut’s first 10 days in space. At that time, body fluids shift to adjust.
But Trudel’s research reveals that this process doesn’t stop in space. Anemia actually continued for the next six months.
Trudel and his team first demonstrated the causes of anemia in space, but created a different method from previous studies, which analyzed blood samples and radioactive injections. Instead, his team analyzed breath and blood samples.
“Just taking blood isn’t enough to know about blood cell destruction, and that’s why this knowledge has been hidden for so long,” he said.
Between 2015 and 2020, samples were collected from 14 astronauts (11 men and 3 women) before they left Earth, during their stay on the International Space Station (ISS), and again when they returned to Earth.
Trudel’s team measured the concentration of carbon monoxide molecules left in the astronaut’s breath as blood degraded, indicating an increase in the breakdown of red blood cells in the body.
They found that this destruction, or hemolysis, was the main effect of microgravity, suggesting that anemia is caused by the environment astronaut.
Although specimens were collected from astronauts on a six-month mission, the researchers reasoned that longer space missions could cause anemia which is more severe.
Nearly 25% of the population already has some form anemia, according to the World Health Organization WHO. This latest discovery can be used to enforce more stringent health requirements for astronaut assigned to longer manned missions, and individuals who are interested in signing up for tours outer space.
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