Bone research in space

On June 2, 2006, space explorers and earth-bound medical experts shared research findings on immobility and bone health at the Bone Research in Space Symposium, held in Toronto, Canada, as part of the IOF World Congress on Osteoporosis (IOF WCO).

Canadian Space Agency astronaut and physician Dr. Dave Williams said, "Understanding the protective effect of appropriate nutrition, calcium supplements and exercise in combination with medications will be important for astronauts particularly on long duration flights and future exploration missions to the Moon and Mars. Similar approaches may help maintain bone density in the elderly and possibly reduce the profound health consequences of osteoporosis."

Clint Rubin from the State University of New York described findings showing that high frequency vibrations stimulate muscle contractions that boost skeletal strength. The stimuli are delivered to the body with a vibrating plate that individuals can stand on, or rest their feet against. "These signals have ability to prevent osteoporosis and promote bone formation without drugs," Rubin said.

Astronauts suffer nutritional deficits that promote bone loss-such as insufficient vitamin D and calcium, which are needed for healthy skeletons, reported Dr. Scott Smith from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). According to Smith, astronauts who spend four months in space experience a 30-50% drop in stores of vitamin D, and nearly 50% declines in calcium absorption.

"Bone is a living tissue, and must be 'stressed' to maintain strength. If bones are immobile for long periods, as occurs in space but also in bedridden patients, the individual will lose a substantial amount of muscle and bone mass, which may have serious repercussions," said Professor Rene Rizzoli, chairman of the IOF Committee of Scientific Advisors, chairman, the IOF World Congress on Osteoporosis 2006 Scientific Committee and one of the speakers at the space symposium.

The Symposia culminated months of intensive preparation by the International Space Life Sciences Working Group (ISPLSWG), chaired by Dr. Ronald Zernicke, from the University of Calgary. Numerous international space agencies, representing countries including Canada, the United States, Ukraine, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, were in attendance.

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