Being an astronaut may be an aspirational career for many young men, but scientists have discovered that it may have one very significant downside: erectile dysfunction. The Independent reports that along with other health risks, astronauts who make long journeys into space could be compromising their sexual health.

New data published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has identified key health issues that could occur in astronauts who make missions into deep space. Researchers carried out experiments on a group of 86 male rats, exposing some to radiation and preventing others from bearing weight.

The study is titled ‘Neurovascular dysfunction associated with erectile dysfunction persists after long-term recovery from simulations of weightlessness and deep space irradiation’, and was published in the FASEB Journal.

The experiments were intended to simulate the conditions that are similar to those astronauts encountered in deep space. This is defined as the universe beyond the dark side of the moon where radiation levels are higher.

Weightlessness and high radiation levels can lead to a condition called oxidative stress, which causes low or imbalanced levels of antioxidants and endothelial dysfunction, which causes the blood vessels to constrict or narrow. Both of these conditions can cause problems in the flow of blood to the penis, leading to ED.

Report author Justin D La Favor from Florida State University explained: “With manned missions to outer space planned for the coming years, this work indicates that sexual health should be closely monitored in astronauts upon their return to Earth.”

He added: “While the negative impacts of galactic cosmic radiation were long-lasting, functional improvements induced by acutely targeting the redox and nitric oxide pathways in the tissues suggest that the erectile dysfunction may be treatable.”

The results of the experiments with rats showed that the damage caused to the body’s tissues is permanent. However, this is the first such study of its kind, and there needs to be far more research into the potential health risks of deep space travel before definite conclusions can be drawn.

There are already other established health risks associated with deep space travel, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The isolation and confinement of living in a hostile closed environment for prolonged periods can also take its toll on mental health. There is also the difficulty of treating any potential medical emergencies that may arise.

Sharmi Watkins, assistant director for exploration in NASA’s Human Health and Performance Directorate, explained:”We’re not going to measure it in hours, but rather in days, in the case of the moon, and potentially weeks or months, when we start to think about Mars.”

NASA currently has over 800 health standards that have been developed on research and evidence gathered from previous space missions. They may now need to add sexual function to this long list of potential issues.

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