View Full Version : Gender Generates Biological Challenges For Long Duration Spaceflight

2016-Apr-04, 09:10 PM
Men and women look exactly the same when ensconced in a space suit. But female physiology is different from male physiology in significant ways. And those differences create challenges when those bodies have to endure long duration spaceflight, such as during proposed missions to Mars.
Some of the effects of spending a long time in space are well-known, and affect both genders. Exposure to microgravity creates most of these effects. With less gravity acting on the body, the spine lengthens, causing aches and pains. Lowered gravity also causes bone loss, as the skeletal system loses important minerals like nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. And the muscles also atrophy, since they aren't used as much.
Microgravity makes the body sense that it is carrying too much fluid in the chest and head, and the body tries to eliminate it. Astronauts feel less thirst, and over time the body's fluid level decreases. With less fluid, the heart doesn't have to work as hard. The heart's a muscle, so it atrophies much like other muscles. The fluid level causes other changes too. Fluid accumulates in the face, causing "Puffy Face Syndrome."
But some problems are specific to gender, and Gregor Reid, PhD, and Camilla Urbaniak, PhD Candidate at the Shulich School of Medicine and Dentistry are focusing on one fascinating and important area: the Human Microbiome. Female and male microbiomes are different, and they are affected by microgravity in different ways.
The Human Microbiome is the trillions of microorganisms living on the human body and in the gut. They are important for digestion and nutrition, and also for the immune system. A healthy human being requires a healthy microbiome. If you've ever travelled to another part of the world, and had stomach problems from the food there, those are caused by changes in your microbiome.
“Space travel changes things about microbes, and if the microbes involved in astronauts’ immune and digestive systems are affected it can cause these health complications,” Reid said. “We almost have to look at the microbiome as an organ — we need to understand how to manipulate the bacteria in favour of health, and reduce the risk of disease.”
After conducting a literature review, the two researchers suggested that astronauts should incorporate probiotics and fermented foods into their diet to boost the health of their microbiome. They think that astronauts should have access to probiotic bacteria that they can prepare food with. “If we can manipulate the microbiome and provide female astronauts with probiotics that could reduce some of the health complications, this may allow them to spend longer time in space,” Urbaniak explained. “Female astronauts don’t want to be limited in how much time they can spend on space missions.”
Reid and Urbaniak also highlight some other problems facing women in long distance space voyages. If a female astronaut is diagnosed with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or something like a urinary tract infection, any treatment involving antibiotics would be problematic. The antibiotics themselves may work less effectively due to changes in the microbiome.
Research on male astronauts has already shown a decrease in beneficial microorganism in the gut, and in the nasal and oral pathways. Those decreases were noted in both long and short duration stays in space. The research also shows an increase in harmful microorganisms such as E. coli. and staphylococcus. But so far, the same research hasn't been done on female astronauts.
“Any previous microbiome work has not assessed female astronauts, even though we know that women and men have different microbial profiles,” Urbaniak added. “There has not been enough work done on women in space, so we hope this stimulates more conversation and more research on the topic.”
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2016-Apr-04, 11:10 PM
Unfortunately, the article doesn't seem to be saying anything at all about gender differences causing challenges... It just notes there are challenges for all astronauts, and then notes that men and women have different gut biota but says nothing about what effect that has on spaceflight. It just said that it might, but that no research has been done...