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Weight, muscle and bone loss during space flight: another perspective

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Abstract

Space flight is a new experience for humans. Humans adapt if not perfectly, rather well to life without gravity. There is a reductive remodeling of the musculo-skeletal system. Protein is lost from muscles and calcium from bones with anti-gravity functions. The observed biochemical and physiological changes reflect this accommodative process. The two major direct effects of the muscle loss are weakness post-flight and the increased incidence of low back ache pre- and post-flight. The muscle protein losses are compromised by the inability to maintain energy balance inflight. Voluntary dietary intake is reduced during space flight by ~20 %. These adaptations to weightlessness leave astronauts ill-equipped for life with gravity. Exercise, the obvious counter-measure has been repeatedly tried and since the muscle and bone losses persist it is not unreasonable to assume that success has been limited at best. Nevertheless, more than 500 people have now flown in space for up to 1 year and have done remarkably well. This review addresses the question of whether enough is now known about these three problems (negative energy balance, muscle loss and bone loss) for to the risks to be considered either acceptable or correctible enough to meet the requirements for a Mars mission.

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Correspondence to T. P. Stein.

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Communicated by Nigel A.S. Taylor.

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Stein, T.P. Weight, muscle and bone loss during space flight: another perspective. Eur J Appl Physiol 113, 2171–2181 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2548-9

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