Journeying into outer space is no mean feat… not least for the toll it can take on an astronaut’s body. For example, astronauts may experience space sickness in their first few days in space, and after returning to Earth following a long stay in space, they may find it difficult to stand and may even faint.
Hanging around in zero gravity also has another effect on the health of astronauts… bone loss as a result of weightlessness…
Houston we have a problem
While some health authorities – like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – reject some of the health claims made about omega 3, others believe it is one of the stars of the nutrition industry.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to a wide-range of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain cancers, good development of a baby during pregnancy, joint health, and improved behaviour and mood.
According to the latest research findings from NASA, which were published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, omega 3 EPA may protect against bone loss during space flights.
The research was led by Dr Sara Zwart from the Universities Space Research Association in Houston. The researchers looked at levels of a protein called NF-kappaB that can have a negative effect on a range of functions, including bone resorption, muscle wastage, and immune health. Data showed that NF-kappaB levels were higher in astronauts following periods of spaceflight. However, those astronauts who’s diets contained high amounts of omega-3 had lower levels of bone loss after a spaceflight.
Dr Sara Zwart said that these observations were supported by cell studies which showed that EPA decreased the activation of NF-kappaB.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids to infinity and beyond
Dr Zwart and her fellow researchers measured the expression of the gene that codes for NF-kappaB before and after 12-16 days on a space shuttle. Seven male and 3 female astronauts participated in the study. The research showed that NF- kappaB levels increased by almost 500 per cent following short-term spaceflight.
Additional data from astronauts on longer spaceflights and stays were also studied. Their dietary intakes were assessed using food frequency questionnaires, and they underwent bone examinations. Increased omega-3 intake was associated with reduced bone loss during weightlessness. The researchers also said that similar results were observed in patients with extended periods of bed-rest.
Dr Zwart said: “There is a good possibility that something as simple as a menu change to increase fish intake might serve as a countermeasure to help mitigate risks related to bone, muscle, immune function, and potentially even radiation.”
It’s not just NASA that’s recognising the many health benefits linked to omega-3. In a previous alert my colleague Jenny Thompson, HSI Director, told you about the US Department of Defence who took a big step forward in endorsing the health benefits of omega-3 by hosting an omega-3 conference called “Nutritional Armour for the War fighter.”
Omega-3 isn’t the only alternative medicine getting a warm embrace from the US military. The US Department of Defence officials seem to be downright progressive when it comes to general attitudes about alternative health care.
Apparently, Pentagon officials have been investigating acupuncture, yoga, and even meditation to help deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among troops called on to serve multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One can only hope that this kind of attitude is something that rubs off on government departments and health officials on our side of the Atlantic and in the rest of Europe too.
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“Capacity of Omega-3 Fatty Acids or Eicosapentaenoic Acid to Counteract Weightlessness-Induced Bone Loss by Inhibiting NF-?B Activation: From Cells to Bed Rest to Astronauts”, published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1359/JBMR091041, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research