Astronauts could be more prone to erectile dysfunction, research shows

New research shows there could be adverse sexual health impact for male astronauts. Credit: PA

Astronauts who go on deep space missions could be more prone to erectile dysfunction, according to new data published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

A group of rats were exposed to radiation and weightlessness similar to the working conditions of astronauts, after which the rodents showed signs of impaired erectile functioning.

Deep space is defined as the region beyond the dark side of the moon, where the levels of galactic cosmic radiation tend to be very high.

Weightlessness and large amounts of radiation can cause oxidative stress (an imbalance, or lack, of antioxidants), and endothelial dysfunction (a change in how the heart's blood vessels constrict), both of which can be triggers for erectile dysfunction, the research showed.

A group of 86 male rats were split into six smaller groups, with some exposed to radiation and others prevented from bearing their own weight, both to simulate the conditions in deep space.

The rodents were in those conditions for four weeks, and were then were left to recover for 12 to 13 months, before they were examined.

Tests on the animals' tissue suggested that the exposure to space-like conditions had caused long-term impairment to typical erectile functioning.

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