Opportunities for nutritional amelioration of radiation-induced cellular damage.
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The closed environment and limited evasive capabilities inherent in space flight cause astronauts to be exposed to many potential harmful agents (chemical contaminants in the environment and cosmic radiation exposure). Current power systems used to achieve space flight are prohibitively expensive for supporting the weight requirements to fully shield astronauts from cosmic radiation. Therefore, radiation poses a major, currently unresolvable risk for astronauts, especially for long-duration space flights. The major detrimental radiation effects that are of primary concern for long-duration space flights are damage to the lens of the eye, damage to the immune system, damage to the central nervous system, and cancer. In addition to the direct damage to biological molecules in cells, radiation exposure induces oxidative damage. Many natural antioxidants, whether consumed before or after radiation exposure, are able to confer some level of radioprotection. In addition to achieving beneficial effects from long-known antioxidants such as vitamins E and C and folic acid, some protection is conferred by several recently discovered antioxidant molecules, such as flavonoids, epigallocatechin, and other polyphenols. Somewhat counterintuitive is the protection provided by diets containing elevated levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, considering they are thought to be prone to peroxidation. Even with the information we have at our disposal, it will be difficult to predict the types of dietary modifications that can best reduce the risk of radiation exposure to astronauts, those living on Earth, or those enduring diagnostic or therapeutic radiation exposure. Much more work must be done in humans, whether on Earth or, preferably, in space, before we are able to make concrete recommendations.