MALE astronauts may have trouble performing in bed after returning to Earth, a new study has revealed.
Researchers in the US found that exposure to the harsh conditions of space can lead to erectile dysfunction that could potentially last for decades.
Experiments show spaceflight can negatively affect vascular tissues that are key to proper blood flow to the penis[/caption]
Experts at Florida State University and Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina studied the effects of spaceflight on erectile function using rats.
In what is claimed to be the first study to assess the impact of galactic radiation and weightlessness on male sexual health, NASA-funded researchers found microgravity and galactic cosmic rays can “negatively affect vascular tissues” and reduce blood flow to the penis.
Experts wrote in their published paper: “These findings indicate that simulated spaceflight exerts a long-term impairment of neurovascular erectile function, which exposes a new health risk to consider with deep space exploration.”
The team used 86 male rats for their experiments, which took place at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory in New York.
To simulate weightlessness from microgravity in space, half of the rodents were placed with their hindlimbs facing upwards for four weeks.
The other half, however, were kept free inside a cage.
Different rats were exposed to different levels of cosmic radiation within both groups – high exposure, low exposure or no exposure.
Around a year later, two issues related to erectile dysfunction were found in the rats.
These were oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction which can impair blood flow to the penis.
The researchers added: “‘Oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction are causative factors in the pathogenesis of erectile dysfunction.”
Even though the experiment was done on rats, experts now fear similar effects could be seen in humans too.
Raising their concerns in a report, researchers called for the sexual health of astronauts to be closely monitored on their return from future deep space missions, and highlighted that certain antioxidants may help to counteract the ill effects by blocking harmful biological processes.
Meanwhile, side effects of space travel are under close watch as governments and private industry ramp up efforts to take people off-world.
Astronauts can lose up to 20% muscle mass even on short spaceflights, one claim suggested.
Another said that weightlessness affects the perivascular spaces – the pockets in brain tissue that serve as channels for fluids.
Early space programs were concerned with the health risks that come with long trips to space.
Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov volunteered for a mission to study the effects of zero gravity on the human body – he spent 437 consecutive days in space, orbited the Earth 7,000 times and is alive today aged 80.