circadian

Probiotics will keep us Healthy in Space

The very last thing you’re probably thinking about when watching exciting science-fiction films like Interstellar or Gravity is the gut health of the astronauts flying through space.

But that doesn’t mean Earth-bound scientists aren’t studying or thinking about it… a lot!

Some of these studies could have some important real-world implications and benefits, even for the 99.99 percent of us who will never fly higher than 39,000 feet (slightly more than 7 miles) in the air.

The Twins Study

The most current and popular project has been the Twins Study, encompassing 10 NASA-funded studies that compared the molecular structures of identical twin astronauts: Scott Kelly who spent nearly a year in space living in a zero-gravity environment and his brother Mark who stayed on the planet as an “Earth-bound control subject.”

One of these research projects, based in Chicago at Northwestern University, Rush University Medical School and the University of Illinois, discovered some interesting fluctuations in the gut microbiomes of both brothers.

Researchers found imbalances in two dominant groups of bacteria (Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes) had shifted in Scott Kelly’s while space bound and returned to pre-flight levels after arriving back on Earth. Interestingly, Mark Kelly’s gut microbiome fluctuated in those two areas too, however, not as drastically as his twin.

Another very surprising result: An expected change in gut diversity while Scott Kelly was in space never happened.

Female astronauts need probiotics

A pair of Canadian researchers at Western University made a good case for female astronauts taking probiotics in a 2016 report appearing in the health journal Women’s Health.

Scientists believe the unique challenges female astronauts face — osteoporosis, breast cancer, compromised vaginal health and urinary tract infections (UTIs) — could be more problematic during space flights.

For instance, women experience more UTIs during space missions than their male counterparts. Treating women with antibiotics may be problematic due to gravity, not to mention the complications associated with overusing them, which is why researchers believe probiotics may be a better option.

“It’s important to look at the health of women,” said Carmilla Urbaniak, a Ph.D. candidate working at the school’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, according to a press release.

“We know that drugs interact differently in males and females. The impact of probiotics are also different between males and females, and it’s time we focused our research on female astronauts.”

Studying gut health on a microchip

Preventing disease isn’t the only concern on the minds of one lab funded by NASA at the University of Arizona’s Center for Applied NanoBioscience and Medicine.

Researchers there have created amazing “gut-on-a-chip” technology that mimics the internal workings of the human gut. Its primary function for this research is to test how the human gut will respond to cosmic radiation exposure during long periods of space travel.

Among the more practical applications for this microchip technology include the development of probiotics that could treat or even prevent radiation damage, says Dr. Frederick Zenhausen.

Don’t forget traveling on planet Earth

Back a bit closer to planet Earth, you may be traveling long distances in airplanes, especially over the long holiday season, to see family members far and wide.

Doing so creates opportunities for jet lag, a temporary sleep problem that happens when people travel quickly across multiple time zones.

These abrupt time shifts can also create problems for your gut, not only by messing up your body’s natural 24-hour circadian rhythms but playing a role in triggering the accumulation of body fat that leads to obesity.

Getting the right amount of sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet goes a long way toward combating the effects of jet lag, but so does protecting the health of your gut.

Taking a probiotic with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, every day gives your gut the extra protection it needs when traveling on land or in the air.

Your Gut Bacteria Have a 24-Hour Routine

Messing up your body’s circadian rhythms — the behavioral, mental and physical changes that follow a 24-hour cycle — can have a huge effect on your health and gut.

Merely traveling on an airplane across multiple time zones can trigger jet lag, a temporary sleep problem when your body’s internal rhythms and biological clock are out of sync.

Apparently, your gut bacteria have a circadian schedule too, and a pair of studies shows how they affect your health for better and worse.

Following a schedule

Research by scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science on mice in a study appearing in Cell demonstrated how gut bacteria follow a schedule, adapting to changes in light and dark, metabolic fluctuations and even the timing of our meals, says Dr. Eran Segel.

In fact, your microbiome moves around within the gut and are exposed to different species and varying numbers of species over the course of a 24-hour day.

Moreover, those changes brought on by circadian rhythms affect not only the physiology of the body but tissues and organs like the liver. Those rhythms can even govern how your body may metabolize and detoxify a drug as basic as acetaminophen.

Scientists also learned how the circadian rhythms of the bodies of little mice (and perhaps humans too) are very dependent on the workings of the microbiome. Surprisingly, genes that show no signs of circadian rhythms take over when these microbial rhythms are disrupted too.

These findings were observed when researchers gave mice antibiotics that removed much of their gut bacteria and even when their feeding times were changed.

Circadian rhythms and obesity

This inter-dependence between the gut and the body’s circadian rhythms could play a role behind the scenes in promoting the accumulation of body fat that leads to obesity, according to a recent study conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern and published in the journal, Science.

Based on tests that compared the health of germ-free, conventionally raised and genetically modified mice, scientists learned how the microbiome controls fat uptake and storage by “hacking into” and altering the functions of the circadian clocks within cells that line the gut.

They identified the mechanism by which gut bacteria regulate the composition of body fat and use a chemical (circadian transcription factor NFIL3) to establish a critical molecular link between the microbiota, circadian clock and metabolism, says Dr. Lora Hooper, lead author of the study, according to a press release.

So how does the microbiota hack into the lining of the gut?

A body’s circadian clock senses those day and night cycles, which are linked closely to feeding times, and transmits that information to the gut to turn on and off the metabolism (the uptake of lipids) when necessary.

More specifically, the circadian rhythms of the gut control the expression of NFIL3 and the production of lipids that are governed by this chemical in the intestinal lining.

“So what you have is a really fascinating system where two signals from the environment come in – the microbiome and the day-night changes in light – and converge on the gut lining to regulate how much lipid you take up from your diet and store as fat,” says Dr. Hooper.

How does this affect you?

Our go-go-GO! lifestyles create all sorts of havoc with our sleep schedules and often distract us from eating healthy meals on a timely basis, creating an environment for all sorts of health problems down the line.

Eating a balanced diet and getting the right amount of sleep your body needs every night really matters. And, we’ve learned in these studies, so does the health of the human gut, especially if you do a lot of traveling or work a crazy schedule that mixes daytime and nighttime hours.

That’s why it’s so important to give the health of your gut an added boost by taking a multi-species probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, that features 10 proven and protective strains of beneficial bacteria and a prebiotic that feeds the good bugs and may improve your sleep too!

Scroll to Top