NASA study provides new findings on protecting astronauts' bones through diet and exercise

August 24, 2012

(—Eating the right diet and exercising hard in space helps protect International Space Station astronauts' bones, a finding that may help solve one of the key problems facing future explorers heading beyond low Earth orbit.

A new study, published this month in the , evaluated the mineral density of specific bones as well as the entire skeleton of astronauts who used the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED), a 2008 addition to the space station that can produce resistance of as much as 600 pounds in microgravity. Resistance exercise allows astronauts to "lift weights" in .

Researchers compared data measured from 2006 until the new device arrived, when astronauts used an interim workout that offered about half the total resistance of the ARED. The researchers found astronauts using the advanced exercise system returned to Earth with more lean muscle and less fat, and maintained their whole body and regional bone mineral density compared to when they launched. Crew members using ARED also consumed sufficient calories and vitamin D, among other nutrients. These factors are known to support bone health and likely played a contributing role.

"After 51 years of , these data mark the first significant progress in protecting bone through diet and exercise," said Scott M. Smith, NASA nutritionist at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston and lead author of the publication.

Since the 1990s, has been thought to be a key method of protecting astronauts' bones. Normal, healthy bone constantly breaks down and renews itself, a process called remodeling. As long as these processes are in balance, and density stay the same. Earlier studies of Russian residents found an increased rate of breakdown, but little change in the rate of regrowth that resulted in an overall loss in . In the new study, researchers looked at preflight and postflight images of bone using X-ray densitometry, as well as in-flight blood and urine measurements of chemicals that reflect bone metabolism. In crew members who used the ARED device during spaceflight, bone breakdown still increased, but bone formation also tended to increase, likely resulting in the maintenance of whole .

"The increase in both bone breakdown and formation suggests that the bone is being remodeled, but a key question remains as to whether this remodeled bone is as strong as the bone before flight," said Dr. Jean Sibonga, bone discipline lead at Johnson and coauthor of the study.

Studies to evaluate bone strength before and after flight are currently under way.

Beyond bone strength, further study is required to determine the best possible combination of exercise and diet for long-duration crews. Dietary effects on bone are being studied on the space station right now, with one experiment evaluating different ratios of animal protein and potassium in the diet on bone health. Another is looking at the benefits for bone of lowering sodium intake.

Explore further: Accelerated bone turnover remains after weight loss

Related Stories

Accelerated bone turnover remains after weight loss

July 28, 2008

When a person is losing a significant amount of weight, they expect to notice changes in their body. However, they may overlook changes happening in their bones. During weight loss through calorie-restricted diets, bones ...

Gymnastic training improves bone health in girls

May 5, 2010

According to a new study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), long-term elite rhythmic gymnastics exerts positive effects on volumetric bone density and ...

NASA Studies Find Omega-3 May Help Reduce Bone Loss

May 10, 2010

( -- NASA-sponsored studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may play a role in mitigating bone breakdown that occurs during spaceflight and in osteoporosis.

Recommended for you

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 24, 2012
What are waiting for, start using artificial gravity. With the ISS structure in place, what would it take to get a Ferris wheel type of assembly in place to advance the concept for future space flight?
not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
Believe it or not, it would take quite a bit to connect a giant Ferris wheel type object to the ISS. The ISS has to be balanced properly, or it will tear and vibrate itself apart when it fires up its thrusters to adjust its orbit.

However, a littlish rotating module could be installed (and should be!). It would only provide a small fraction of Earth's gravity, but that might well prove enough to stave off bone loss and remodeling.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2012
What are waiting for, start using artificial gravity.

You have access to some invention no one is aware of?

With the ISS structure in place, what would it take to get a Ferris wheel type of assembly in place to advance the concept for future space flight?

A lot? Do the math: How large do you want it to be. How fast does it need to revolve. And when all is said and done - why do the astronauts do their experiments in space? Right: because of zero g.

It would only provide a small fraction of Earth's gravity, but that might well prove enough to stave off bone loss and remodeling.

Unfortunately that is not the case (as bed-rest studies have shown). Bones need a certain minimum stress before remodeling happens (at least the buildup part. the teardown part works in zero g. That's why they all come back with lowered bone mineral density). Low g does not provide that stress.
not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
3.7 billion dollars, nasa did the math/s for the Nautilus.

not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
Ps. Only 83-143 million dollars for test module to go on the ISS.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.