Does zero gravity cause intestinal issues?


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The uncertainties of science: New research simulating microgravity on Earth now suggests that zero gravity might weaken the walls of the intestines.

The barrier function of the intestinal epithelium, he added, is critical for maintaining a healthy intestine; when disrupted, it can lead to increased permeability or leakiness. This, in turn, can greatly increase the risk of infections and chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes, and liver disease.

McCole’s team used a rotating wall vessel — a bioreactor that maintains cells in a controlled rotation environment that simulates near weightlessness — to examine the impact of simulated microgravity on cultured intestinal epithelial cells.

Following culture for 18 days in the vessel, the team discovered intestinal epithelial cells showed delayed formation of “tight junctions,” which are junctions that connect individual epithelial cells and are necessary for maintaining impermeability. The rotating wall vessel also produces an altered pattern of tight junction assembly that is retained up to 14 days after the intestinal epithelial cells were removed from the vessel.

This is good research, but it has not proved anything, merely indicated an area of research that needs a follow-up in space. I also wonder if there has been any evidence of this phenomenon from astronauts returning from long missions. As far as I know, intestinal issues have never been mentioned as a problem post flight.

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2 comments

  • Tether & spin up on the way to Mars. It would solve so many of the identified problems.

  • Andi

    I was wondering how you could simulate not having Earth’s gravity by rotating something in Earth’s gravity field.

    According to one of the linked articles, the “”Rotating Wall Vessel” is a horizontally-mounted cylinder that rotates about this horizontal axis. The cells inside thus experience a rotating gravitational vector; the net gravitational force on them over time is zero. The cells are essentially suspended in the medium they are floating in.

    This sounds a bit hokey to me, as maybe the net gravitational force is zero, but the instantaneous is certainly not. Maybe I’m not getting it, but it doesn’t seem to me that this is a good simulation of real microgravity.

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