How do future astronauts cope physically with a potentially nine-month journey to Mars in a cramped spacecraft, followed by extended periods on the Red Planet? Wine. Lots of wine.
OK, so that’s not entirely accurate — but new research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School suggests that it wouldn’t hurt. In a study involving rats, researchers found that resveratrol, a natural ingredient present in foodstuffs including wine, could help preserve muscle mass and strength over long periods in low-gravity situations.
“We placed our rats in either normal gravity or suspended so they were only at 40% of normal loading, [equivalent to] Mars gravity,” Dr. Marie Mortreux, lead author of the NASA-funded study, told Digital Trends. “Half of each group received purified trans-resveratrol, [in doses of] 150mg/kg/day, every day during the experiment. We showed that resveratrol did not impact body weight, food intake, or calf circumference. However, the treated animals maintained a grip force in both the front and rear paws at the level of the controls, unlike the nonsupplemented animals at [the same ground-based partial gravity]. We also showed that RSV increased the myofiber size, and preserved the muscular architecture by decreasing the myofiber type switch.”
Right now, a lot of the things we assume about the effects of long-term space travel are still, well, assumptions. Missions that data has been collected for are done in low Earth orbit (LEO), and greatly vary in curation. Some of the best data has been collected from the two astronauts who spent a year aboard the International Space Station. However, this is still a tiny sample size from which to draw conclusions. Nonetheless, a few things are known — such as the fact that the human soleus muscle shrinks by a third in just three weeks in space. This is accompanied by a loss of slow-twitch muscle fibers, necessary for endurance.
Would-be astronauts shouldn’t start building up their alcohol tolerance just yet, though. “Unfortunately, wine is not the answer,” Mortreux continued. “While the RSV can be found in a lot of natural food — blueberries, grapes, chocolate, peanuts — they do not contain enough to match our research. The dose we used was moderate, and according to previous papers, would represent approximately 1,440 mg per day for a 60 kg individual. RSV is already widely available on the market, over the counter, or from online stores, and pills usually come dosed at 500 or 1,000 mg. So a stock of this dietary supplements seems to be the best fit, both for its benefits, and to reduce the space in the vessel.”
The research was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.