Study: Long-term stay in space changes the brain anatomy of science astronauts

By studying the subtle changes in health, body composition, and functions of astronauts in conditions previously unknown to man, scientists learn more about the diseases and disorders that our bodies have successfully endured on Earth.

Astronauts fly to International Space Stations and the race to establish human colonies on Mars accelerates. Scientists have noticed, through several research studies, that human stay in space for long periods under the light of weak gravity is not without consequences and consequences that negatively affect human health. It is necessary to identify all these health risks and find solutions to them, so as not to threaten humanity’s dream of space travel and turn Mars into an extension of planet Earth.

Search for gravity

In the movie “The Space Between Us”, an astronaut discovers that she was pregnant while flying to the first human colony on Mars, and dies at birth, and her son grows up adapting to Mars’ weaker gravity relative to Earth up to the age of 16 years. years old. Growing up for a long time on Mars made the young man’s heart unbearable to leave the space colony and return to Earth.

And when the boy insists on returning to Earth, they will do an operation to increase his bone density and begin exercises to adapt to the Earth’s climate. His return to Earth was fraught with many dangers because his heart could not do it. endures the strong gravity of the Earth, and thus he would not be able to pump blood to all parts of the body. Events follow and the young man’s heart breaks, so his billionaire father rushes him to a spaceship to reach the rescue zone to save his life and he decides to live with his son on Mars for life.

The story of the movie “The Space Between Us” is based on the dangers of space travel in our bodies (social networking sites)

Perhaps that film is the only one whose story is based entirely on the dangers of space travel in our human bodies. And how space travel threatens our lives with gravity. But the only difference between the hero and the astronauts is that he grew up on a planet with weak gravity, while astronauts traveling to the International Space Station were born and lived on Earth’s gravity and then moved to live on a weak gravity for 6 months.

The effect of space on the movement of fluids in the human body

Astronauts spend long periods of up to 6 months on the International Space Station, during which time their bodies try to adapt to weak or near-zero gravity conditions at the space station, but this does not happen without a long list of fears. and negative damages. to which they are exposed.

Several American universities have recently conducted a scientific study published in the journal Scientefic Reports to assess the effect of almost zero gravity on astronaut brain functions and is the first of its kind to focus on comparative analysis of an aspect of astronaut health. brain in space, especially the areas around blood vessels The blood vessels in the brain through which cerebrospinal fluid enters the brain and are responsible for draining cerebrospinal fluid around the gray area.

Being in space for a long period of time changes the brain structures of astronauts
Astronauts spend long periods of up to 6 months on the International Space Station (NASA)

As reported by Science Alert, the study noted disturbing changes that accompany astronauts throughout periods between space travel missions. During the study, researchers in various US states performed a series of magnetic resonance imaging examinations on the brains of 15 astronauts before their 6-month stay on the International Space Station and 6 months after their return.

Comparing radiographs before and after space travel, the researchers found an increase in the volume of fluid zones surrounding blood vessels in the brains of young astronauts who traveled to the International Space Station for the first time, but they did not notice the same growth. in astronauts who have previously worked on the space station and stayed.There are long periods, as tests revealed small differences.

Juan Biantino, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon Health and Science and author of the study explains, “Veteran astronauts appear to have reached a stage of physical and physiological equilibrium. Previous studies of brain tissue and fluid volumes have found that these tissues are slowly recovered from their time in space, and some changes may accompany astronauts for a year or more.

It is known that astronauts currently rarely travel in space more than 3 times in their lifetime and usually do not stay more than 6 months at a time. But future journeys to Mars will take several years, and for this it is necessary to know the effect of prolonged stay in space under weak or limited gravity on vital organ functions within humans.

Scans showing the perivascular space of a single astronaut.  (Hupfield et al., Scientific Reports, 2022)
Researchers have found an increase in the volume of fluid zones surrounding blood vessels in the brains of young astronauts (Scientific Reports)

Function of areas filled with cerebrospinal fluid

These areas are an integral part of the normal system for draining fluids around gray matter and clearing the brain of debris and debris that accumulates in brain cells during waking hours. This natural system, which is known as the glimpatic system and covers the entire brain, cleanses the brain of metabolic proteins that can accumulate in the brain during awakening.

If these vessels do not drain fluid efficiently from the tissues, harmful substances can accumulate, increasing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders caused by deterioration or consumption of nerves. An increase in the size of perivascular areas usually occurs with age and is also associated with the development of dementia.

“The results of the study may be useful in diagnosing and treating terrestrial diseases associated with cerebrospinal fluid such as hydrocephalus,” says Biantino. “Not only do they help understand the fundamental changes that occur during space travel, but they also help people on Earth who suffer from diseases that affect the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid.”

Questions that the study did not answer

The study has not yet revealed the extent to which repetitive space flights affect the worsening of symptoms and changes, as well as the role of changes occurring on the first flight in astronauts’ adaptation to the new reality. Even after recognizing the effect of prolonged stay in space on the dilation of surrounding blood vessels, it was still not clear whether the change was associated with any significant health risk.

Portrait of a happy astronaut on a spaceship in orbit.  The cosmonaut in a futuristic space suit is full of joy and is shaking hands on a video call.  VFX Graphics shoots from the International Space Station.
It is too early to know if microgravity has an effect on cerebrospinal fluid circulation (Shutterstock)

It is also too early to know if microgravity has any effect on the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid around our brain, let alone how dangerous changes in the shape of the canal network are. And it may not become clear until researchers have a sufficient sample of veteran astronauts with extensive space travel experiences.

Of course, scientists know all about these changes caused by living in space beyond the potential harms of traveling and working in outer space. As Juan Biantino puts it, “This information pushes you to raise some fundamental questions in science and how life on Earth evolved.”

We do not feel any suffering due to the permanent attraction of gravity to the earth, it is not something we resist or fight or seek to get rid of, but we feel in complete harmony with it, our bodies are accustomed to benefit. of the force of gravity on blood flow and waste disposal and perhaps a host of other functions we can hardly think of.

By studying the subtle changes in health, body composition, and functions of astronauts under conditions unknown to man, scientists are learning more about the diseases and disorders that our bodies have successfully tolerated on Earth.

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