This Is Your Brain on Space — Study Shows Lasting Effects of Cosmonaut Life

Friday, 26 October 2018 - 11:17AM
Science News
Friday, 26 October 2018 - 11:17AM
This Is Your Brain on Space — Study Shows Lasting Effects of Cosmonaut Life
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Composite adapted from Pixabay photos
Being an astronaut (or cosmonaut) is still considered one of the coolest jobs ever to kids of all ages, but there may be a negative side to the occupation that might make you reconsider your dreams. Changes in gravity can make bones brittle, muscles weaker, cause changes in DNA, blur vision, and according to a recent study of Russian cosmonauts, it can also cause brain tissue deformities that are still present up to 7 months after the space travelers are back on Earth.

Led by scientists at the University of Antwerp and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study involved taking before and after MRIs of 10 cosmonauts (all men) who have spent roughly 6 months aboard the International Space Station. After 7 months, more MRIs were taken of 7 of the same spacemen. The researchers confirmed that cerebrospinal fluid levels increased while in space, which previous studies had shown. The also found that the fluid caused brain matter to compress, and while it did spring back after 7 months, there were delayed changes to the brain's white matter. "We were designed for standing in gravity on Earth, and once that force is released, all the bodily fluids move upward," study author Peter zu Eulenburg told National Geographic. The authors believe that pressure from the fluid pushed water from the brain into the white matter. Over time when the brain tissue rebounded, the water flowed back out, causing the white matter to appear to shrink. 

It is unclear what the physical changes mean for the cosmonauts' health cognitively or psychologically as the scientists clearly state that more research is needed, but generally speaking, physical changes to any part of the brain are rarely if ever good news. Maybe the experience of looking down on the planet is worth it?

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