A new study shows that having a healthy gut microbiota is key to avoiding several negative effects of spending too much time in space.
Being an astronaut is tough. Spending too much time in space can seriously affect health, causing negative effects on metabolism, bones, muscles, gastrointestinal system, immune system, and mental health.
But, according to a scientific review recently published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, a healthy gut microbiota can prevent some of these problems.
In microgravity environments, astronauts may experience nausea and, consequently, struggle to eat enough.
Along with other factors, these changes in eating habits can disrupt the community of microorganisms that inhabit the gut – the microbiota -, leading to more problems, such as malnutrition, metabolic disorders, in addition to decreased sensitivity to insulin.
“The well-being of the gut microbiome of space travelers should be among the primary goals of long-duration exploratory missions,” said Martina Heer, Professor at the University of Bonn, in Germany, and one of the authors of the study.
“To ensure the success of the mission, we must not overlook the myriad of microorganisms that reside in our gastrointestinal tract and make sure they are in balance.”
Together with professor Silvia Turroni, from the University of Bologna, Italy, Heer reviewed studies on gut microbes and their role in health and disease in an extraterrestrial environment.
The study results confirm that space travel disrupts the gut microbiome. For instance, one study found that the microbiota of astronauts on the same mission became similar to each other during the journey.
There was also an increase in bacteria that promote intestinal inflammation and a decrease in bacteria that have anti-inflammatory properties.
According to the researchers, to avoid this, astronauts need balance. Nutritionally balanced meals, with lots of fiber to boost the metabolism of the intestine, should be the priority.
Other options may be more targeted, including supplements that provide bacteria capable of strengthening the immune system or those that synthesize vitamins required for bone growth.