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Bed Rest For The Weary?

 Bed Rest For The Weary?A unique Tufts study on the debilitating effect of bed rest is expected to help everyone from NASA astronauts to patients with heart failure. Boston.

Boston [01.26.04] With the nation pondering a new era of manned space flights to the moon and even Mars, scientists are scrambling to learn as much as possible about the debilitating effects of extended stays in a weightless environment. Researchers at Tufts - who are about to begin a unique study on the health effects of bed rest - may be able to provide scientists and health care providers alike with some interesting answers.

"The unusual study, to be done at Tufts-New England Medical Center, is designed to document just how debilitating bed rest is for muscles and bones," reported The Boston Globe, noting that bed rest is considered the best model for studying the effects of a weightless environment. "The implications are huge - and not just for NASA, which is funding the study to find ways to protect astronauts' muscles and bones on long space flights, such as those planned to Mars."

According to Tufts' Dr. Ronenn Roubenoff - an associate professor of medicine and nutrition - even brief periods of inactivity (in bed or in space) can have long term health effects.

"If you're healthy, you can tolerate a week without trouble. But after that, you start to see large losses of muscles and bones," Roubenoff told the Los Angeles Times.

It's a problem well documented in NASA astronauts.

"In past missions, astronauts have lost one-third of their muscle strength and the equivalent of four years of bone loss on earth after one month of weightlessness," reported the newspaper.

But astronauts won't be the only people to benefit from the Tufts research. By studying the impact of a month of bed rest on 50 health men, Roubenoff , Dr. Carmen Castaneda Sceppa of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and colleagues may be able to help scores of patients undergoing prolonged recoveries in hospitals, at home and even nursing homes.

"Bluntly put, prolonged bed rest can be a medical disaster - that's why hospitals insist that patients get up and move around, even after major surgery," reported the Globe.

After just a few days of inactivity, the body begins draining amino acids from muscle tissue. Over the long-term, bed rest can cause kidney stones, bed sores, blood clots - even insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

"We are built to sacrifice protein from muscle, in times of stress, to boost the immune system," Roubenoff told the Globe. "We're designed to get better relatively quickly or drop dead."

But the debilitating effects of bed rest may not be permanent.

According to the Globe, the Tufts team will also be trying to determine "whether resistance training with springs and pulleys, along with special protein supplements, can reverse the downward slide."


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