Studying the human body in spaceflight is a significant mission for NASA scientists and researchers. Often, what they discover can benefit people on Earth with the same or similar conditions. International Space Station crews continuously participate in human research investigations both on the ground and in orbit. Two current studies are Dietary Intake Can Predict and Protect Against Changes in Bone Metabolism during Spaceflight and Recovery, or Pro K, and Nutritional Status Assessment, or Nutrition.
Pro K is NASA's first study looking for a dietary countermeasure to reduce the bone loss experienced by astronauts in microgravity environments. Pro K investigates if a flight diet with a decreased ratio of animal protein to potassium will lead to decreased loss of bone mineral.
The Nutrition study measures bone metabolism, oxidative damage, and chemistry and hormonal changes, along with providing assessments of nutritional status. Data from this study helps researchers understand the effectiveness of measures taken to counteract the negative aspects of spaceflight.
Scott Smith, Ph.D. and principal investigator for the Pro K and Nutrition investigations, discussed the role of diet in two interviews with NASA's Public Affairs Office. In one of the interviews, Smith said, "We can do studies and learn things in a matter of months [in microgravity], that would take 5, 6, or 10 years to do in a similar ground-based population."
During these interviews, Smith discusses the effects of microgravity on the astronauts while living on the station, and after returning home. He gives details about the Pro K and Nutrition investigations in which the astronauts participate. Findings involving reported vision issues are shared in the How Long-Duration Spaceflight Affects Health interview. Nutrition findings involving bone health and osteoporosis are shared in the Space Nutrition interview. Both studies could result in dietary countermeasures that have no side-effects, and add no additional upmass or crew time.