Science

Can spinach protect astronauts from space radiation?

We already knew that spinach is good for us. Popeye has been preaching it for ninety-two years. But now it appears that the leafy vegetable can also protect astronauts from harmful cosmic rays.

In any case, astronauts who would one day embark on distant space travel will have to deal with a good dose of cosmic rays. Even with a well-protected spaceship, keeping the harmful rays at bay remains a particularly difficult task without Earth’s protective magnetosphere.

Not only can radiation cause damage to our DNA and cancer, it can also affect the heart. But a recent study published in the professional journal Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, now suggests that a diet rich in antioxidants could safeguard the health of astronauts on distant space journeys.

Cardiovascular disorders

“If we want to experience manned long-distance space travel, we need to understand the consequences of space-induced diseases and how we can protect our bodies against them,” said Jesper Hjortnaes of the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands.

More specifically, Hjortnaes and his team looked at the relationship between radiation and the health of our heart and blood vessels, and what exactly can be done to protect astronauts.

They discovered that radiation can lead to ‘myocardial remodeling’. In other words, healthy heart tissue gets tougher, which can lead to heart failure. Exposure to radiation can also cause fats and cholesterol to build up in blood vessels. This in turn can cause strokes or heart attacks.

Spinach, beets and tomatoes

The researchers then looked at possible protective means such as medicines that offer protection against cosmic rays, but also changes in the diet.

And guess what? Antioxidant-rich foods – with plenty of green vegetables such as spinach, as well as beets and tomatoes – are said to be “promising” for reducing the harmful effects of radiation, although the researchers also stressed that further research is needed.

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