How Bodies React to Space: A Closer Look at Gender Differences

How does being in space affect muscles and bones? And how do men and women respond differently?

Margot Issertine, along with her supervisor Dr. Marie Mortreux and the Rutkove Lab at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study to answer these questions.
Their study, funded by NASA and part of Issertine’s master’s thesis, delved into the realm of muscle and bone deconditioning in microgravity, mainly focusing on the impact of reloading periods under diverse gravity loads.

Gender Disparities in Space Physiology

With the technological advances made to expand space exploration, astronauts will spend extended amounts of time in space before returning to Earth. This situation of unloading and reloading influences human physiology, and read- aptation to full weight-bearing may significantly impact astronauts’ health. On Earth, similar situations can be observed in patients who arebedridden or suf- fer from sport-related injuries.
However, our knowledge of male physiology far exceeds our knowledge of female’s, which creates an important gap that needs to be addressed to understand the sex-based differences regarding musculoskeletal adaptation to unloading and reloading, necessary to preserve health of both sexes.

Rat Studies: Shedding Light on Gender-Specific Space Resilience

The research, conducted on rats, investigated how male and female rats responded to a period of mechanical unloading followed by recovery under normal gravity conditions. It was found that male rats experienced greater bone loss during both unloading and reloading periods compared to females. Females also showed a better recovery of muscle function.
Surprisingly, initial differences between males and females in terms of muscle size disappeared after the unloading and recovery period, suggesting that males experienced more severe muscle loss.
The study also compared these findings to previous research in rodents and humans, highlighting the importance of considering sex differences in musculoskeletal adaptations. These results provide valuable insights into the potential need for sex-specific countermeasures in space exploration and disuse-related conditions on Earth.

In conclusion, the study revealed intriguing disparities, with males displaying heightened susceptibility to bone loss during microgravity and reloading phases, while females demonstrated superior muscle recovery capabilities. These nuanced findings emphasize the necessity of considering gender-specific factors when devising tailored approaches to safeguard astronaut well-being during extended space missions.

If you want to delve deeper into this brilliant research, you can find the full paper here:

This article is part of our dossier on Space. Other contents:

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