Astronauts, Postmenopausal Women, and Brittle Bones

11 Nov

It’s well known that as we age our bones demineralize, or lose calcium, and become weaker and more prone to fractures. This seems to be particularly true in postmenopausal women where it has to do with the loss of hormonal support for bone matrix development and calcium deposition. This is often a difficult problem and treatment is also problematic. Most physicians recommend calcium, vitamin D, and exercise. Weight bearing exercise is important because it helps prevent mineral loss and keeps the bones strong. It’s similar to building muscles through weight lifting. You must stress the muscles in order for them to increase in size and strength. The same goes for bones.

Bone and mineral loss is also a major problem with astronauts who spend months in weightlessness. If there is no stress on the bones, they begin to lose calcium and become weaker. It has been estimated that an astronaut will lose the same amount of calcium and bone strength in one month than a postmenopausal woman would lose in one year.

How do you get around this? Weightlifting in space simply will not work because the weights are weightless. No resistance, no improvement in bone strength and mineralization. To get around this astronauts have used bungee cords and other elastic devices to add that resistance and keep their muscles and bones strong. The Russians at one time devised a suit with bungee cords built-in but it proved to be cumbersome to use in the confines of the International Space Station (ISS).

Leave it to those guys at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to come up with a clever solution. They have developed a sort of Spider Man suit made of a stretchy elastic material that forces exertion with the movement of arms and legs. This resistance helps keep the astronauts’ muscle and bone strength intact during those long months in space.

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Posted by on November 11, 2010 in Medical Issues, Space Program


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