Anemia could make space travel to Mars a challenge, study says

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 19, 2022
Updated 2022/01/19 at 12:13 PM

A new Canadian study has found that “space anemia” caused by weightlessness isn’t a temporary problem as once thought. CBC reported. “As long as you’re in space, you’re destroying more blood cells than you are producing,” said Guy Trudel of the University of Ottawa, who led a study of 14 astronauts carried out by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Normally, the body destroys and replaces two million red blood cells per second. However, the new study found that astronauts’ bodies destroyed three million red blood cells per second during six-month missions. “We thought we knew about space anemia, but we didn’t,” Trudel said.

A full year after returning to Earth from the ISS, the astronauts’ red blood cell levels have not returned to pre-flight levels, according to the study in Nature. “If you’re on your way to Mars and…you can’t keep up” with red blood cell production, “you could be in serious trouble,” Trudel said. This wouldn’t necessarily cause problems in a zero-gravity environment, but it could become a problem when astronauts get to Mars or when they return to Earth.

[Anemia] it’s a primary effect of going into space.

The researchers said anemia could even be a problem for space tourism, if potential travelers are at risk for anemia. The study also noted that “current exercise and nutritional countermeasures of modern space travel did not prevent post-flight hemolysis and anemia” with the astronauts tested.

The study, first announced in 2016, took from collected data during the Expeditions 10 and 11 missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2004 and 2005. Anemia is defined as a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood, a condition that can result in pallor and tiredness and affect endurance and the strength.

The study did not say how these problems could be addressed directly, but suggested that clinicians focus on anemia-related issues when testing candidates. “Medical screening of future astronauts and space tourists may benefit from a pre-flight profile of the globin gene and modifiers,” according to the study. It also suggested that post-landing monitoring should cover conditions affected by anemia and hemolysis.

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