Experiments conducted on the International Space Station found microgravity accelerated the biological aging of endothelial cells, which line the inner surfaces of blood vessels, researchers said in a study published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
A comparison of space-flown endothelial cells to endothelial cells cultured under normal gravity for differences in gene expression and/or in the profile of secreted proteins found the space-flown cells differentially expressed more than 1,000 genes and secreted high amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines, inducing significant oxidative stress, the researchers said.
The findings suggest possible ways to improve the health of all people, not just astronauts, they said.
"Understanding the cellular and molecular events of senescence might help in finding preventive measures that are useful to improve the quality of life of millions of people," said Silvia Bradamante, a researcher involved in the work from the Institute of Molecular Science and Technologies in Milan, Italy. "Our study further supports the role of oxidative stress in accelerating aging and disease."
Experts said further research should focus on the biological risks facing astronauts.
"As we plan to send people deeper into space than ever before, and for longer flights, we've got to make sure that they remain in best health possible," said Gerald Weissmann, editor in chief of The FASEB Journal. "We've evolved to rely on gravity to regulate our biology, and without it, our tissues become confused. Worst of all: they age faster!"
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