In the years to come, space agencies such as Nasa hope to send their astronauts on long trips into space, including to Mars. In the years to come, humans are expected to embark on long space journeys that could see them travel for months to previously unexplored parts of space.
But researchers have warned that there is a vast set of important health risks from those trips: more than 30 of them in all, according to Nasa’s research.
The hazards include different gravity and space radiation, as well as specific risks of the spacecraft including isolation and confinement in closed environments. The health risks include cancer, cardiovascular disease, behavioural health issues and nutrition problems.
Now scientists have added another risk: their sexual health. What’s more, scientists warned that the problems do not abate even with time, though there might be an opportunity to treat them.
In the new study, though to be the first to look at the sexual health risks of deep space journeys, researchers took rats and subjected them to similar conditions that will meet humans in space: lower weight, to mimic the microgravity of space travel, and simulated galactic cosmic radiation of the kind that will rain down on space travellers.
The simulated situation “exerts a long-term impairment of neurovascular erectile function, which exposes a new health risk to consider with deep space exploration”, the Nasa-funded researchers warn in a new paper.
The cosmic rays appear to increase the oxidative stress undergone by the rats. That in turn meant that less blood was supplied to the penis, leading to potential difficulties.
They call for more research into what could be another potential danger as humans travel further than before into space.
“With manned missions to outer space planned for the coming years, this work indicates that sexual health should be closely monitored in astronauts upon their return to Earth,” said corresponding author Justin D La Favor from Florida State University.
“While the negative impacts of galactic cosmic radiation were long-lasting, functional improvements induced by acutely targeting the redox and nitric oxide pathways in the tissues suggest that the erectile dysfunction may be treatable.”
The study, ‘Neurovascular dysfunction associated with erectile dysfunction persists after long-term recovery from simulations of weightlessness and deep space irradiation’, was published this week in the FASEB Journal.
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