2022-01-15

“Space anemia”: research reveals how space travel leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells

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8731de62b621d15 - "Space anemia": research reveals how space travel leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells

“since the first space mission, there have been reports of space anemia when astronauts return to earth, but we don’t know why,” said the lead author, Dr. guy trudel, a rehabilitation doctor and researcher at Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the University of Ottawa. “Our research shows that after reaching space, more red blood cells are destroyed, and this situation continues throughout the astronauts’ mission.”

before this study, “space anemia” was considered to be a rapid adaptation to the transfer of fluid to the upper body when astronauts first arrived in space. In this way, astronauts lost 10% of the fluid in their blood vessels. It is believed that astronauts quickly destroy 10% of red blood cells to restore balance, and the control of red blood cells will return to normal after 10 days in space

“Space anemia”: research reveals how space travel leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells

on the contrary, Dr. trudel’s team found that red blood cell damage is a major impact in space, not just caused by liquid transfer. They proved this by directly measuring the destruction of red blood cells in 14 astronauts during a six-month space mission

on earth, our bodies create and destroy 2 million red blood cells per second. The researchers found that during the astronauts’ six months in space, 54% more red blood cells were destroyed, that is, 3 million red blood cells per second. These results are the same for both female and male astronauts

Dr trudel’s team made this discovery because they developed techniques and methods to accurately measure the destruction of red blood cells. These methods were then adapted to collect samples on the international space station. In Dr trudel’s laboratory at the University of Ottawa, they were able to accurately measure trace amounts of carbon monoxide in astronauts’ breathing samples. Each molecule of heme (the dark red pigment in red blood cells) is destroyed to produce a molecule of carbon monoxide

“Space anemia”: research reveals how space travel leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells(1)

although the research team did not directly measure the production of red blood cells, they believe that astronauts produced additional red blood cells to compensate for their damaged cells. Otherwise, astronauts will eventually have severe anemia and major health problems in space

“fortunately, having fewer red blood cells in space is not a problem when your body is weightless,” Dr. trudel said. “But when you land on earth, and possibly on other planets or satellites, anemia that affects your energy, endurance and strength will threaten the mission target. The impact of anemia will only be felt after you land, and you must deal with gravity again.”

“Space anemia”: research reveals how space travel leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells(2)

in this study, 5 of the 13 astronauts developed clinical anemia on landing – one of the 14 astronauts did not draw blood on landing. The researchers saw that space related anemia was reversible, and red blood cell levels gradually returned to normal three to four months after returning to earth

interestingly, the research team repeated the same measurements a year after the astronauts returned to earth and found that the damage of red blood cells was still 30% higher than the level before flight. These results suggest that astronauts may have undergone structural changes in space, changing red blood cell control for up to one year after a long-term space mission

the discovery that space travel increases red blood cell destruction has several implications. First, it supports screening astronauts or space tourists for existing anemia affected blood or health conditions. Second, a recent study by Dr. trudel’s team found that the longer the space mission, the more serious the anemia, which may affect the long-term missions to the moon and Mars. Third, increasing the production of red blood cells will need to adapt to the astronauts’ diet. Finally, it is unclear how long the body can maintain this high rate of red blood cell destruction and production