Space travel can destroy health and adversely affect metabolism, bone and muscle health, gastrointestinal health, immunity and mental health. This prevents them from carrying out long-distance missions such as Mars landings. However, a new review in the Open Access Journal Boundaries in Physiology Highlights that promoting a healthy microbiome will protect astronauts from the rigors of space travel. Finding which microorganisms are most beneficial and finding the best way to use them is an important factor in bringing the red planet to a screeching halt.
If humans ever wanted to walk on Mars, they would have to endure a long space journey, but space travel would adversely affect health, limiting how far we can go. The micro-gravity environment can cause muscle breakdown and loss of bone mass. This can cause nausea, which can sometimes make astronauts struggle to eat enough (space food is not so good). A change in the diet of a spaceship can disrupt the intestinal microbiome and lead to further health problems.
These factors can lead to malnutrition, gastrointestinal problems, infections and inflammation. Astronauts may also experience metabolic disorders, including decreased sensitivity to insulin. Other problems include immunity, mental illness, and mental retardation.
Increasing studies are focusing on intestinal microbes and their role in space-related health, according to a professor at the University of Bologna. Sylvia Turoni is also a professor at the University of Bonn. Martina Heer also urges me to write this latest review.
Their review discusses various studies that suggest disruptions in the intestinal microbiome during space travel. For example, one study found that the microbiomes of astronauts on the same mission were more similar to each other during travel. There was an increase in bacteria associated with intestinal inflammation and a decrease in those with anti-inflammatory properties.
“Changes in the microbiome can disrupt the balanced and complex relationship between microorganisms and their human hosts, which can have serious consequences for the functioning of the body system,” Turoni said.
However, the review reveals that managing the intestinal microbiome is a powerful way to maintain health in a spaceship. “The literature suggests that nutritional responses based on prebiotics and probiotics make a great promise of protecting astronauts,” Toroni said.
So, what do these microbial treatments involve? They can be as simple as a nutritious balanced diet, with plenty of fiber to kickstart microbial metabolism in the gut. Other options may include targeting bacteria that secrete substances that boost the immune system, or other microbial supplements that synthesize vitamins needed for bone growth.
In fact, there are a wide variety of pro-biotics and nutritional options to protect astronauts from the special problems they face in space. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to understand which treatments are most effective and how each astronaut can use them.
“The well-being of the astronauts’ microbiome should be one of the primary goals of long-term exploration missions,” Heer said. “To ensure the success of the mission, we must not ignore the myriad microorganisms that inhabit our gastrointestinal tract and ensure that they are in balance.”
While future missions to Mars will undoubtedly be looking for evidence of microbes on the red planet, this review suggests that our homegrown microbes are getting us there.
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