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Planet of the Grapes: How red wine will help astronauts on a mission

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Planet of the Grapes: How red wine will help astronauts on a mission
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Red wine is a staple for many social gatherings, but according to a study published last week in scientific journal Frontiers, they may soon be a staple for astronauts in space, too.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School showed that resveratrol (RSV), a compound commonly found in grape skins and blueberries, helps preserve muscle function in reduced gravity and could mitigate muscle atrophy, a phenomenon experienced by astronauts in space.

Muscle atrophy in space

Speaking to Euronews, lead author of the study Dr. Marie Mortreux said that “astronauts’ muscle experience deconditioning in space because of the lack of gravity.

“The muscles that are the most affected are the postural ones such as the soleus in the calf.

“On Earth, they help us work against gravity and maintain our body upright.

“In space, since there is no impact of Earth gravity, these muscles are not needed, and therefore our body adapts and this is why there is rapid muscle atrophy.”

When this happens, the muscles also experience a change in composition. On Earth, the muscles contain fibres which contract slowly, known as slow-twitch fibres, which allows us to work against gravity.

In space, however, the absence of gravity causes these fibres to change and contract faster, known as fast-twitch fibres. Unlike slow-twitch fibres, these fibres experience fatigue quicker, which becomes a problem when astronauts come back to Earth.

RSV to the rescue

RSV, an anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, and anti-inflammatory compound, helps avoid this phenomenon. Mortreux says that “in some models of microgravity, RSV has been shown to enhance muscle mass and muscle recovery and acted as an exercise mimetic.”

The exact effect of RSV on the muscles is still “relatively unknown,” according to Mortreux, although there exists some strong evidence supporting the hypothesis that RSV can preserve muscle mass.

“My hypothesis is that RSV has a holistic beneficial effect on the muscle,” Mortreux said. “First, it reduces inflammation, which always happens when the body is exposed to a sudden and important change or stress.

“Second, it maintains glucose uptake in the muscle, which allows the muscles to function better and perform better.

Mortreux also says that RSV has an effect on reducing the composition of muscles from having slow-twitch fibres to fast-twitch fibres.

“I think that RSV, by preserving the glucose uptake and by its other benefits, allows the muscle to keep its original composition and thus, its force. This is what we showed in our article.”

Pinot Noir in space?

Although RSV is already sold as a dietary supplement and is even available in some cosmetic products, Mortreux says that the use of the compound for space travel “needs to be discussed with ISS programmes, flight surgeons, etc.”

She believes, however, that it is feasible: “While we have not sent any rats, or humans, on Mars, we can only suppose. But we could try it on astronauts going to the ISS right away.”

And even if RSV is approved for space travel, astronauts will not likely take a bottle or two of Pinot Noir with them to space. “There is not nearly enough RSV in food to provide this dose so we would rely on dietary supplements.

“If astronauts bring wine, I would suggest to drink it with moderation and for pleasure purposes, but stick with the dietary supplements for health purposes,” Mortreux says.