This Is Your Brain on Outer Space…

by Chris Centeno, MD /

space-travel-human-brain-effects

We've all seen Elon Musk's grand plans to send people to Mars. In fact, with his company SpaceX building and testing its newest and largest rocket now, we should soon see a manned flight around the moon. So what are the physical implications of all of this commercial space travel on the body? New research suggests it may get interesting. Let me explain. 

White Matter and Gray Matter: Why Volume Matters

The brain consists of two main tissues—the gray matter and the white matter. When you look at a model of the full brain, you are looking at the gray matter, which does actually have a grayish color. It is the outer cortex of the brain and what you typically envision when you think of the brain. The white matter is deeper brain tissue that lives beneath the gray matter and makes up the central core of the brain. The white matter contains the fat-covered axons of nerve cells, while the gray matter contains the cells themselves, specifically the terminals for the axons and the dendrites.

So the job of the white matter is to serve as the brain’s highway system, transporting impulses between nerve cells in the gray matter. Healthier white matter, therefore, means faster processing of information. The gray matter contains many regions involved in many different functions, such as cognitive function, emotions, decision making, sensory processes (e.g., speaking, sight, etc.), memories, muscle communications, and so on. It’s the density of the cells in these tissues that determine the volume, and the more volume we have in the gray matter and white matter as we age, the stronger the brain.

How Lack of Gravity Affects Brain Volume

The purpose of the new study was to investigate how microgravity, or the near absence of gravity, affects brain volume. Researchers analyzed the gray matter and white matter as well as cerebrospinal fluid in the brains of 10 astronauts who spent an average of 189 days in space. Gray matter volumes were found to be reduced at nine days postflight; however, these had mostly recovered seven months later. White matter volumes were found to still be reduced at the seven-month post-flight examinations. CSF (the fluid that surrounds the brain) volume was found to be increased in certain areas at nine days post flight, with some increases, such as in the subarachnoid space still present at seven months, suggesting the spaces created by reductions in white matter were slowly being filled in by the increased cerebrospinal fluid.

Researchers translated these findings to the risk of potential clinical conditions after long bouts in space, including visual disturbances, which the astronauts experienced, possibly due to the increased pressure caused by the extra volume of CSF. The goal is to eventually determine ways to minimize these effects on the brain during space travel, especially in those participating in lengthy missions.

What Else Can Affect Brain Health?

Very few of us will ever have the opportunity to spend any time in space, so most of us don’t have to be too concerned about the effect of microgravity on our brain. However, there are many other issues, even those that could affect us daily, that we may want to be aware of when it comes to brain health. Let’s review a few:

The upshot? Could these and other changes that happen to the body in outer space impact the health of all of those SpaceX Mars colonists? Or will we just evolve into a subspecies in outer space, our bodies adapting to our new environment? Will these colonists whose bodies have so dramatically changed ever be able to come back to mother earth? Only time will tell, but if Musk has his way, we should know all of this in the next 10–15 years! 

Category: Latest News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
View Profile

Get Blog Updates by Email

Get fresh updates and insights from Regenexx delivered straight to your inbox.

Regenerative procedures are commonly used to treat musculoskelatal trauma, overuse injuries, and degenerative issues, including failed surgeries.
Select Your Problem Area
Shoulder

Shoulder

Many Shoulder and Rotator Cuff injuries are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering shoulder arthroscopy or shoulder replacement, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.

  • Rotator Cuff Tears and Tendinitis
  • Shoulder Instability
  • SLAP Tear / Labral Tears
  • Shoulder Arthritis
  • Other Degenerative Conditions & Overuse Injuries
Learn More
Cervical Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
Learn More
Knee

Knees

Knees are the target of many common sports injuries. Sadly, they are also the target of a number of surgeries that research has frequently shown to be ineffective or minimally effective. Knee arthritis can also be a common cause for aging athletes to abandon the sports and activities they love. Regenerative procedures can be used to treat a wide range of knee injuries and conditions. They can even be used to reduce pain and delay knee replacement for more severe arthritis.

  • Knee Meniscus Tears
  • Knee ACL Tears
  • Knee Instability
  • Knee Osteoarthritis
  • Other Knee Ligaments / Tendons & Overuse Injuries
  • And more
Learn More
Lower Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
Learn More
Hand & Wrist

Hand & Wrist

Hand and wrist injuries and arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and conditions relating to overuse of the thumb, are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Hand and Wrist Arthritis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Trigger Finger
  • Thumb Arthritis (Basal Joint, CMC, Gamer’s Thumb, Texting Thumb)
  • Other conditions that cause pain
Learn More
Elbow

Elbow

Most injuries of the elbow’s tendons and ligaments, as well as arthritis, can be treated non-surgically with regenerative procedures.

  • Golfer’s elbow & Tennis elbow
  • Arthritis
  • Ulnar collateral ligament wear (common in baseball pitchers)
  • And more
Learn More
Hip

Hip

Hip injuries and degenerative conditions become more common with age. Do to the nature of the joint, it’s not quite as easy to injure as a knee, but it can take a beating and pain often develops over time. Whether a hip condition is acute or degenerative, regenerative procedures can help reduce pain and may help heal injured tissue, without the complications of invasive surgical hip procedures.

  • Labral Tear
  • Hip Arthritis
  • Hip Bursitis
  • Hip Sprain, Tendonitis or Inflammation
  • Hip Instability
Learn More
Foot & Ankle

Foot & Ankle

Foot and ankle injuries are common in athletes. These injuries can often benefit from non-surgical regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Ankle Arthritis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Ligament sprains or tears
  • Other conditions that cause pain
Learn More

Is Regenexx Right For You?

Request a free Regenexx Info Packet

REGENEXX WEBINARS

Learn about the #1 Stem Cell & Platelet Procedures for treating arthritis, common joint injuries & spine pain.

Join a Webinar

RECEIVE BLOG ARTICLES BY EMAIL

Get fresh updates and insights from Regenexx delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to the Blog

FOLLOW US

Copyright © Regenexx 2019. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy

*DISCLAIMER: Like all medical procedures, Regenexx® Procedures have a success and failure rate. Patient reviews and testimonials on this site should not be interpreted as a statement on the effectiveness of our treatments for anyone else.

Providers listed on the Regenexx website are for informational purposes only and are not a recommendation from Regenexx for a specific provider or a guarantee of the outcome of any treatment you receive.