A few months in space leads to decades worth of bone loss

Abstract

Determining the extent of bone recovery after prolonged spaceflight is important for understanding risks to astronaut long-term skeletal health. We examined bone strength, density, and microarchitecture in seventeen astronauts (14 males; mean 47 years) using high-resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomography (HR-pQCT; 61 μm). We imaged the tibia and radius before spaceflight, at return to Earth, and after 6- and 12-months recovery and assessed biomarkers of bone turnover and exercise. Twelve months after flight, group median tibia bone strength (F.Load), total, cortical, and trabecular bone mineral density (BMD), trabecular bone volume fraction and thickness remained − 0.9% to − 2.1% reduced compared with pre-flight (p ≤ 0.001). Astronauts on longer missions (> 6-months) had poorer bone recovery. For example, F.Load recovered by 12-months post-flight in astronauts on shorter (< 6-months; − 0.4% median deficit) but not longer (− 3.9%) missions. Similar disparities were noted for total, trabecular, and cortical BMD. Altogether, nine of 17 astronauts did not fully recover tibia total BMD after 12-months. Astronauts with incomplete recovery had higher biomarkers of bone turnover compared with astronauts whose bone recovered. Study findings suggest incomplete recovery of bone strength, density, and trabecular microarchitecture at the weight-bearing tibia, commensurate with a decade or more of terrestrial age-related bone loss.

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Source: Incomplete recovery of bone strength and trabecular microarchitecture at the distal tibia 1 year after return from long duration spaceflight | Scientific Reports

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