Being in space speeds up the destruction of red blood cells

(ORDO NEWS) — For the first time in the world, scientists have shown that space travel can cause a decrease in the number of red blood cells, known as space anemia.

An analysis of the health status of 14 astronauts showed that in their bodies the number of degradable red blood cells in space increased by 54 percent, compared with the normal level that was maintained in their bodies on Earth.

“Space anemia has been regularly reported since the first space missions first returned to Earth, but we couldn’t figure out why,” explained study lead author Dr. Guy Trudel, a physiotherapist and researcher at Ottawa Hospital, Canada, and professor at the University of Ottawa. “Our study shows that upon arrival in space, there is an increase in the rate of destruction of red blood cells, and this continues throughout the duration of an astronaut’s stay in space.”

Prior to this study, it was thought that space anemia was due to astronauts’ upper body rapidly adapting to changing fluid flow upon arrival in space. Astronauts lose about 10 percent of the fluid in their blood vessels this way.

It was believed that astronauts rapidly destroy 10 percent of their red blood cells in order to restore this balance, and that the number of red blood cells returns to normal after 10 days in space.Instead, Dr. Trudel’s team found that the destruction of red blood cells is directly related to being in space and is not related to changing the flow of fluids in the body.

They demonstrated this by directly measuring the level of destruction of red blood cells in the bodies of 14 astronauts during a six-month space mission.

On Earth, about 2 million red blood cells are produced and destroyed in our bodies every second. The researchers found that about 54 percent more red blood cells are destroyed in the bodies of astronauts, that is, about 3 million cells every second. This number does not depend on the sex of the astronauts, the authors showed.

Although the team did not measure the number of red blood cells generated by the body, it is assumed that this is equal to the number of cells destroyed, otherwise the astronauts would experience a serious bout of anemia in space that threatens health and life.

“Fortunately, reducing the number of red blood cells in space is not a problem while the body is in zero gravity,” Trudel said. “But when you return to Earth or land on another planet, anemia starts to take a toll on your energy levels, stamina, and can jeopardize the entire mission.”

In this study, 5 out of 13 astronauts (one astronaut failed a blood test) showed signs of clinical anemia upon landing. It is interesting to note that when the team repeated the tests one year later, the rate of red blood cell destruction remained elevated in the astronauts studied, 30 percent higher than pre-flight levels.


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