Red wine’s resveratrol could help Mars explorers
Mars is about 9 months from Earth with today’s tech, NASA reckons. As the new space race hurtles forward, Harvard researchers are asking: how do we make sure the winners can still stand when they reach the finish line?
Published in Frontiers in Physiology, their study shows that resveratrol substantially preserves muscle mass and strength in rats exposed to the wasting effects of simulated Mars gravity.
“After just 3 weeks in space, the human soleus muscle shrinks by a third,” says Dr. Marie Mortreux, lead author of the NASA-funded study at the laboratory of Dr. Seward Rutkove, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School.
To allow astronauts to operate safely on long missions to Mars – whose gravitational pull is just 40% of Earth’s – mitigating strategies will be needed to prevent muscle deconditioning.
“Dietary strategies could be key,” says Dr. Mortreux, “especially since astronauts travelling to Mars won’t have access to the type of exercise machines deployed on the ISS.”
A strong candidate is resveratrol: a compound commonly found in grape skin and blueberries that has been widely investigated for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-diabetic effects.
“Resveratrol has been shown to preserve bone and muscle mass in rats during complete unloading, analogous to microgravity during spaceflight. So, we hypothesized that a moderate daily dose would help mitigate muscle deconditioning in a Mars gravity analogue, too.”
To mimic Mars gravity, the researchers used an approach first developed in mice by Mary Bouxsein, PhD, also at Beth Israel Deaconess, in which rats were fitted with a full-body harness and suspended by a chain from their cage ceiling.
As expected, the ‘Mars’ condition weakened the rats’ grip and shrank their calf circumference, muscle weight and slow-twitch fiber content.
What’s more, resveratrol completely protected muscle mass (soleus and gastrocnemius) in the Mars rats, and in particular reduced the loss of slow-twitch muscle fibers.