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Is Space the Final Frontier for Our Bones?

January 1, 2019 by Steve Coleman0
NASA Bone Density Research

While aging on Earth is a huge problem in our bones...

... it takes on stellar proportions in space where zero gravity unleashes havoc on the human skeleton, in a similar fashion to degenerative bone diseases like osteoporosis, which makes bones weak and brittle as we age.

DR. STEVE COLEMAN //  Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Yet this cellular mismatch between weightlessness and gravity may hold the key to unlocking a new generation of regenerative tools for humans on Earth and specifically for my patients at in Naples, Bonita Springs, Estero and Fort Myers.

To put this statement into perspective, consider for a moment that a person aged 50 on Earth will lose around half of one percent of bone mass per year. In micro-gravity this bone loss accelerates to an alarming 10% per year. 

 In addition, astronauts lose up to 15% of their muscle with a corresponding 25% deterioration in strength.   Interestingly, this process seems more pronounced in the lower body, particularly the legs, hips and spine, mirroring the aging process on Earth.  

Osteoporosis animation

The nail in the coffin is the fact that diminished bone mass also triggers a rise in calcium levels in the blood, increasing the risk of kidney stones.

This is forcing NASA and space startups like SpaceX to accelerate research and funding into nutritional, physical and molecular tools that slow – and perhaps even reverse – this process in astronauts as we once again aim our sites on sending humans to another planet.  

Back on Earth, its estimated that over 40 million Americans either have osteoporosis or are at high risk of acquiring it.  This is a frightening and terrible statistic and a major health concern for my patients as they pass the age of 40.

If you currently suffer from osteoporosis or osteoarthritis (knee pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, elbow pain – just to name a few) you should be extremely excited by NASA’s research since its estimated that a six-month study in zero gravity equals a decade of research on Earth. 

Yes, you read that correctly: There is a 10x advantage to studying humans in space than there is on Earth.    


We often forget that bone is living tissue, constantly being remodeled by cellular processes that break it down and rebuild it in response to Earth’s gravity, the mechanical force of exercise, and your diet, which should contain calcium-rich foods and Vitamin D. 

One question that invariably comes up in the run-up to one of our Naples Stem Cell Seminars is whether stem cell therapy can positively remodel bone for Osteoporosis sufferers in the same way it benefits those afflicted with Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis?

It’s important to understand that there is usually an inverse relationship between the two: You either have one or the other, rarely both.   

While osteoarthritis is generally triggered by a previous injury or undue stress on the joint over time, osteoporosis has a hormonal component. This leads to a situation where bone loss speeds up for several years in women post-menopause (and andropause in men).

However, osteoporosis is usually four times more prevalent in women than men, usually associated with declining levels of estrogen.  Poor diet and lack of weight-bearing exercise can also exacerbate bone density loss, reflecting similar challenges for humans operating in space or micro-gravity.

Typically our clinic does not use stem cells to directly treat osteoporosis or brittle bone disease but situates any long-term treatment plan within the broader context of osteopathic medicine which holistically examines the patient’s health and responsiveness to a hormonal and nutritional counseling program defined by our initial Comprehensive Medical Assessment or 100 Point Health Score.  

Affordable Financing Plans for Regenerative Medicine - Dr. Steve Coleman

Dr. Steve Coleman, D.O

If you are currently experiencing knee pain, hip pain or shoulder pain from a previous injury or sports-related trauma we may be able to help.  Please schedule a Comprehensive Medical Assessment (CMA) to determine if you qualify for promising new treatments in Stem Cell Therapy, Prolotherapy, PRP, Nutritional Counseling & Hormone Balancing. 

 This includes our new NAD+ Therapy program which utilizes a dietary and supplemental program incorporating nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NDA) to restore healthy mitochondrial function.  The mitochondria are the power centers of the human cell and when properly energized help offset the aging process.

NAD increase through nutritional program

However, this picture has evolved substantially over the last several months, largely due to the progress made by NASA in studying bone density loss and the earth-shattering discovery of the Human Skeletal Cell which promises to directly implicate stem cells in treating osteoporosis.

For the first time in history, scientists have identified a specialist stem cell responsible for constructing the entire human skeleton.  Currently our clinic extracts bone marrow and fat cells harvested from a patient’s body for re-injection back into a knee or hip joint suffering from osteoarthritis. 

The results have been highly favorable, leading to accelerated joint healing in most patients without surgery. However, finding the Human Skeletal Cell offers an even more powerful method to potentially regrow bone, cartilage and tissue in ways unimaginable before.

Human Skeletal Stem Cell

Even more importantly, the Human Skeletal Cell may offer a direct non-surgical biological tool to directly treat osteoporosis in both women and men.  

Meanwhile, the scientists at NASA’S Bone & Signaling Laboratory are also exploring stem cells in a celestial context, hypothesizing that microgravity and radiation in space triggers cellular pathways that simultaneously protect and degrade human skeletal tissue. 

They are researching ways that bone marrow stem cells - the same ones our clinic extracts from a patient’s hip and re-injects into the knee to treat knee paind during a clinic visit - can mitigate osteoporosis in zero gravity. 

Other research teams within this department are testing theories that mechanical load from gravity at G is required for normal stem cell proliferation and differentiation during tissue regeneration.  In parallel,  pharmaceutical approaches to ameliorate spaceflight bone loss are being investigated, including a drug called NELL-1 which may slow and/or even reverse osteoporosis on Earth.

Bone Densitometer Flight Unit - 1

A Bone Densitometer machine used to measure bone density of mice onboard NASA Spaceflights

Bone Densitometer Flight Unit Examined By NASA spaceman
NASA Astronaut Bone Densitometer Flight Unit - 1

While the regenerative non-surgical approaches outlined above are indeed extremely exciting for our Naples stem cell clinic, we must not forget that Mother Nature has also given us one simple tool to offset the risk of acquiring osteoporosis: Exercise.

As can be expected from a brilliant team of engineers and scientists, NASA has built and refined a space-age machine to help astronauts engage in weight bearing exercise, a method known to keep bones healthy and strong.  

The Advanced Resistive Exercise Machine (ARCM), uses physical force to remodel the bone in the same way gravity does its magic on Earth.  

 This preventive approach will likely have future benefits for elite athletes and sports enthusiasts, once the technology drifts downstream to the commercial sphere on Earth.  

It may even find its way into local physical rehabilitative facilities in Naples and Bonita Springs, who partners with.

One of the key points to come out of the all research being done by NASA and its Bioscience team is a generational shift in how they classify and understand bone loss.    Typically, one of the key ways our osteopathic physicians in Florida measure bone density (and the possibility of bone hypertrophy) is through a Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. It’s a quick, painless procedure that analyses your bone mineral density and susceptibility to hip fractures.

DEXA scan for osteoporosis

However, NASA scientists believe that they have developed an even more powerful machine that operates at a higher resolution and unlocks a three-dimensional microarchitecture of bone structure, especially the wrists and ankles.   This tomography system was built by Scanco Medical, a state-of-the-art Swiss imaging facility which offers a resolution of 60 micrometers. (A human hair, by the way, is 100 micrometers.)

One of the key reasons this machine should interest osteoporosis sufferers is because it goes beyond a DEXA density scan in measuring bone strength, an important requirement as we age and seek to keep our independence to do daily tasks like using a knife, fork or turning a door handle.   

Scanco Medical Extreme CT Tomography Machine For Bone Strength Microarchitecture

These tomography scans allow scientists to get a much clearer picture of how an astronaut’s skeletal structure adapts (or shrinks) in response to micro-gravity and mechanical loading in space.   It may offer some predictive capacity, too, including offering clues into a person’s susceptibility to both bone density and strength loss associated with low gravity in space and aging on Earth.

Over a six or 12 month period in space, NASA scientists will be able to study tissue homeostasis in extreme conditions, allowing them to build up a benchmarking profile through which to compare the physiology of new astronauts being sent up into space. 

It will also allow them to systematically analyze the process bones go through when astronauts reenter Earth’s atmosphere and begin their long recovery process.  It usually takes one year before the space flier recovers most of his previous bone density and strength.

But, what scientists are not sure about is whether the bone microarchitecture will remain the same or display unusual adaptions.    The results of these studies will have enormous benefits in understanding how to treat osteoporosis on Earth.

Space Travel Accelerates Hope For Osteoporosis Cure

The totality of the preceding discussion should fill Americans with tremendous optimism and hope that in the near future we may not only be able to slow the onset of both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, but actually reverse it.    

This new era of space flight and travel opens the door to an accelerated model of studying aging that is simply not possible on Earth.  What we can learn in six months in space would take roughly a decade on our water planet.   

However, let’s not understate or devalue the contributions of our terrestrial stem cell biology achievements, including the recent discovery of the Human Skeletal Stem Cell, which quite possibly is the most significant milestone yet in regenerative medicine.  

Bundled together, we now sit on the cusp of finally offering osteoporosis patients a definable path to aging gracefully without pain, while enjoying a large range of mobility.  

Add in the latest advances in ​nutraceutical supplements, including NAD+,  and dietary therapies to fight diseases associated with aging and damaged energy metabolism, and the future looks extremely bright for our patients in Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers and Estero.   

Stages of Knee Osteoarthritis for College Football Athlete


These scientific and biological breakthroughs will be highlighted in upcoming stem cell seminars and we invite all interested parties to sign up to our early bird RSVP list as they become available over the next 12 months. I look forward to personally meeting you to discuss the latest breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.