New Research Reveals How to Combat Muscle Loss During Space Flights

Exercise and testosterone supplements are the key to countering muscle atrophy in space.
Loukia Papadopoulos

There are several conditions that affect astronauts when in space one of which is muscle loss due to reduced gravity. Now, new research from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has found that exercise and hormone treatments can be used to prevent muscle loss for space visitors. 


Identifying biomarkers

"The study has given us the ability to identify biomarkers that predict how susceptible each individual is to muscle function decline and how effectively different exercise and hormone treatments can combat the atrophy," said senior author Randall Urban, UTMB chief research officer and professor in the department of internal medicine.

The losses in muscle mass and strength during space travel are a key concern for long space exploration missions. These conditions stem from the fact that muscles don't work as hard in reduced gravity conditions. And while people exercise in an effort to fight this muscle loss, this method does not completely prevent muscle atrophy. The new study, however, points to a solution that may just work on an individual basis.

"This new ability may allow scientists to personalize space medicine by designing specific exercise and/or hormone intervention programs for each astronaut on Earth before they embark on a long-term mission to space," said Senior author Melinda Sheffield-Moore, professor in the Texas T&M department of health and kinesiology and UTMB department of internal medicine.

Simulating space conditions

The study used extended bed rest to simulate space conditions. 24 healthy male participants were placed on bed rest for 70 days.

During that period, some of the test subjects followed an exercise regimen and received either testosterone supplements or a placebo while a control group remained in the bed without any intervention. The researchers then collected muscle biopsies.

The researchers discovered positive effects on the men's muscle proteins due to exercise and the testosterone supplements. "The unique insights we've gained on muscle proteins during extended bed rest could someday be applied to predict changes to muscle mass/strength in various situations and then develop a personalized program of exercises and hormonal countermeasures," said senior author E. Lichar Dillon, UTMB assistant professor in the department of internal medicine.

The findings are available in PLOS One.