Resveratrol found in grapes could help astronauts on Mars

For the first humans on landing on Mars, a natural ingredient resveratrol could help prevent muscle atrophy due to zero gravity says a report in the Frontiers in Physiology. The study is titled, “A Moderate Daily Dose of Resveratrol Mitigates Muscle Deconditioning in a Martian Gravity Analog,” and was from the Department of Neurology and Center for Advanced Orthopaedic Studies Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.

Moderate daily dose of resveratrol alleviates muscle deconditioning in Martian gravity analog. Image Credit: Aimee M Lee
Moderate daily dose of resveratrol alleviates muscle deconditioning in Martian gravity analog. Image Credit: Aimee M Lee

According to researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), grape skin, red wine and blueberries contain the naturally occurring ingredient called the resveratrol. The team wrote, “Resveratrol (RSV), a polyphenol most commonly found in grapes and blueberries, has been extensively investigated for its health benefits, including its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-diabetic effects... RSV has also been shown to preserve bone and muscle mass.”

Resveratrol can preserve muscle activity and function and reduce the risk of muscle atrophy which is common in zero-gravity and micro gravity situations like on space missions and on Mars respectively. The researchers explain that Mars has a 40 percent gravitational pull compared to Earth and this may cause muscles of the astronauts to atrophy or alter. To maintain the health of their musculoskeletal system, the team would need to take diets with resveratrol, the researchers wrote.

Space flights lead to atmospheres of zero gravity as well write the researchers. This leads to muscle atrophy with lack of use. The scientists add that over the last fifty years of space missions, astronauts have lost up to 20 percent of their muscle mass due to space flights of less than two weeks duration. To prevent such atrophy, the astronauts have to remember to exercise each of their muscles each day regularly for several hours while on space. Even after their return, they may require physical rehabilitation to prevent further damage to their muscles and restoration of their muscle bulks. The idea for this new research came from the fact if a dietary component could help preserve the muscle mass and function during space missions.

Senior author of the study Seward B. Rutkove, MD, Chief of the Division of Neuromuscular Disease in the Department of Neurology at BIDMC said, “Resveratrol has been extensively studied for its health benefits, including its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-diabetic effects.” He added, “Resveratrol has also been shown to preserve bone and muscle loss, however there's a lack of research regarding its effects on the musculoskeletal system in partial gravity. We hypothesized that a moderate daily dose would help mitigate muscle deconditioning under conditions that replicate the partial gravity on Mars.”

To test the efficacy of resveratrol, the team used lab rats and replicated the gravitational pull of Mars on them. This experiment was designed by Marie Mortreux, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow working in Rutkove's lab. Mortreux explained, “In the past, mimicking lower gravity had been achieved by tail suspension. Although effective, this approach presents a variety of challenges, including impaired blood flow and spinal misalignment. To avoid these issues and to help keep the animals horizontal and presumably more comfortable, we incorporated a custom-fit suspension harness.” Earlier studies on rats and mice with microgravity had been designed by Mary Bouxsein, PhD, Director of the Center for Advanced Orthopaedic Studies at BIDMC said Mortreux.

For this study the team included 24 male lab rats divided into two groups – a dozen lived in normal gravity conditions while the other 12 were exposed to gravitational pull mimicking Mars – around 40 percent of that of Earth. Of the 12 in each group, 6 each were given 150 milligrams resveratrol per kilogram of body weight per day.

At the end of two weeks of this treatment, all the animals that were living in 40 percent gravity showed muscle atrophy. However those that were receiving resveratrol supplementation had both front and back limb grip force same as before. This showed that resveratrol supplementation prevented muscle atrophy and muscle weakness due to microgravity situations and also led to an increase in the cell size of the muscle fibres or myofibres and overall increase in muscle weight. Resveratrol also protected the muscle composition in low gravity, the team noted.

Mortreux said, “After five decades of manned low earth orbit missions, scientists have a relatively good understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body, but the consequences of partial gravity remain far less well understood. This study emphasizes that natural compounds could be key to maintaining human health as we journey to the moon and to the red planet.” She added that the team was studying the effects of this supplement n the muscle function and preservation in females at present.

This work was supported and aided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Journal reference:

Mortreux Marie, Riveros Daniela, Bouxsein Mary L., Rutkove Seward B., 'Moderate Daily Dose of Resveratrol Mitigates Muscle Deconditioning in a Martian Gravity Analog', Frontiers in Physiology, DOI=10.3389/fphys.2019.00899,  https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fphys.2019.00899

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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