Scientific reports. 2022-12-15; 12.1: 20847.

Impact of diet on human nutrition, immune response, gut microbiome, and cognition in an isolated and confined mission environment

Douglas GL, DeKerlegand D, Dlouhy H, Dumont-Leblond N, Fields E, Heer M, Krieger S, Mehta S, Rooney BV, Torralba MG, Whiting SE, Crucian B, Lorenzi H, Smith SM, Young M, Zwart SR

PMID: 36522361


Long-duration spaceflight impacts human physiology, including well documented immune system dysregulation. The space food system has the potential to serve as a countermeasure to maladaptive physiological changes during spaceflight. However, the relationship between dietary requirements, the food system, and spaceflight adaptation requires further investigation to adequately define countermeasures and prioritize resources on future spaceflight missions. We evaluated the impact of an enhanced spaceflight diet, with increased quantity and variety of fruits, vegetables, fish, and other foods rich in flavonoids and omega-3 fatty acids, compared to a standard spaceflight diet on multiple health and performance outcomes in 16 subjects over four 45-day closed chamber missions in the NASA Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). Subjects consuming the enhanced spaceflight diet had lower cholesterol levels, lower stress (i.e. cortisol levels), better cognitive speed, accuracy, and attention, and a more stable microbiome and metatranscriptome than subjects consuming the standard diet. Although no substantial changes were observed in the immune response, there were also no immune challenges, such as illness or infection, so the full benefits of the diet may not have been apparent in these analog missions. These results indicate that a spaceflight diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids produces significant health and performance benefits even over short durations. Further investigation is required to fully develop dietary countermeasures to physiological decrements observed during spaceflight. These results will have implications for food resource prioritization on spaceflight missions.