Impact of Weightlessness and Galactic Cosmic Radiation on Erectile Function: Findings from Spaceflight Simulations

Have you always fantasized about space travel? A study, published in the scientific journal The FASEB Journal, could put an end to your feelings of longing for space travel. According to research by a team from Florida State University and Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, weightlessness and cosmic ray exposure increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in men.



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Astronauts at higher risk of erectile dysfunction

“Interest in long-term manned expeditions to the Moon and Mars has grown in the space sector,” the researchers note in their paper. Because of the absence of gravity, and cosmic radiation, these journeys are not without consequences for astronauts’ health. So the researchers asked themselves a question – admittedly a bit trivial by human standards, but nonetheless essential for human beings – what are the long-term effects of spaceflight on their sex lives?

To answer this question, the team gathered 86 male rats. For four weeks, half of them were positioned hindlimbs up to simulate the weightlessness seen in space. The other rodents were allowed to walk normally around their cages. In addition, in both groups, the animals were exposed to different levels of high, low, or no cosmic radiation.

The result: these aspects of space flight adversely affect vascular tissue in the penis and can cause erectile dysfunction. This occurs even after a long-term recovery period.

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Space travel: sexual health needs to be monitored

This research has shown that vascular changes are induced by relatively low doses of galactic cosmic radiation and, to a lesser extent, by simulated weightlessness, mainly due to increased oxidative stress.
“With manned space missions planned for the next few years, this work indicates that sexual health should be carefully monitored by astronauts when they return to Earth,” explains author Justin D. La Favor of Florida State University in a press release. Although the negative impact of galactic cosmic radiation has been long-lasting, the functional improvements induced by acute targeting of nitric oxide and redox pathways in tissues suggest that erectile dysfunction may be treatable.”

The researchers suggest that treatments with various antioxidants could neutralize some of these effects and prevent erectile dysfunction.

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Andrade, M. R., Azeez, T. A., Montgomery, M. M., Caldwell, J. T., Park, H., Kwok, A. T., Borg, A. M., Narayanan, S. A., Willey, J. S., Delp, M. D., La Favor, J. D. (2023). Neurovascular dysfunction associated with erectile dysfunction persists after long-term recovery from simulations of weightlessness and deep space irradiation. The FASEB Journal.



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