Nutritional Biochemistry

    About the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory

    The primary goal of the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory is to determine the nutritional requirements for extended-duration spaceflight. Integral to that are the goals to maintain astronaut health and to develop, evaluate, and validate nutritional countermeasures to prevent or minimize the negative effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human. The Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory activities are split between operations and research. The primary operational activity is the support of the Clinical Nutritional Assessment profile, which is completed before and after International Space Station flights. Dietary intake and body mass are monitored during these long-duration (4 to 6-month) missions. In addition to general dietary intake issues, several specific nutrients are also of concern. Vitamin D levels decline during flight, most likely related to the lack of ultraviolet light exposure. This is very important for bone and calcium metabolism, as well as other body systems. Folate, another vitamin, also appears to decline during flight, which may be related to the content of the food, the stability of the food on orbit (related to both time and radiation exposure), or changes in the body's need for folate.
    Nutritional Biochemistry Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory

    Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory research efforts have included spaceflight and ground-analog studies with human subjects. One current flight experiment is extending the operational Clinical Nutritional Assessment profile by including inflight blood and urine collections on ISS. Other projects include the investigation of effects of exercise or nutritional countermeasures on bone metabolism during bed rest. The Clinical Nutritional Assessment profile is part of the routine testing being performed in ongoing bed rest studies. The Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory recently completed a vitamin D supplementation study at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and studies of oxidative damage during saturation dives off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. The Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory has numerous ongoing collaborative projects with universities across the U.S. and around the world, and has included a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded project to determine how nutritional status is related to elderly self-neglect.

    Nutrition was critical for early explorers on Earth and will be even more important for astronaut explorers. The benefits of using nutrition and dietary patterns as countermeasures to prevent negative conditions associated with spaceflight include the low risks for side effects, low costs, and minimal crew time required during flight. Research in other areas (for example, cardiovascular, muscle, bone, immunology, and radiation) has highlighted nutrition as integral to their success and indicated where additional efforts are required. These efforts will enable safe human exploration of space.