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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 00:33 GMT 01:33 UK
Broccoli 'keeps bones healthy'
Broccoli is a good source of vitamin K
Eating broccoli can help to keep bones healthy and could be vital in helping astronauts to survive in space, say scientists.

Research carried out in France has found that a deficiency of vitamin K can lead to bone loss.

They have suggested that eating broccoli, which is abundant in vitamin K, can help to maintain bone strength.

Their finding could have major implications for astronauts. There have been fears that humans would be unable to spend long periods in space because of the effects of a lack of gravity on bones.

A US study recently reported that living in conditions of near zero-gravity places less stress on bones, and in response, they weaken.

This leaves astronauts open to severe bone loss which, in turn, leaves them extremely vulnerable to major bone fractures.

It is not well known that vitamin K is linked to healthy bones

British Nutrition Foundation spokeswoman

But the French finding gives hope to the idea of humans living in space.

Scientists from Jean Monnet University in Saint Etienne made their discovery after examining the effects of prolonged stays in space in two Russian cosmonauts.

Both men had been on different missions to the Russian space station Mir and had spent months living without gravity.

The French scientists examined the effects of the missions on bone formation in these two men.

They found that an essential ingredient needed to promote healthy bone growth was seriously reduced in both cosmonauts within days of their arrival in space.

This active ingredient, which is called osteocalcin, needs vitamin K to promote growth and the French study found that the body was unable to retain this vitamin in any sizeable quantity in space - resulting in bone loss.

But when one of the cosmonauts took daily doses of vitamin K the problem was found to disappear and his body was able to maintain proper bone strength.

Further research

However, Marie-Helene Lafage-Proust, one of the researchers, said more work needed to be done.

"We don't know if there is a lack of vitamin K in the food, or if the metabolism of vitamin K is impaired," she said.

Benny Elmann-Larsen, a physiologist at the European Space Agency welcomed the findings.

"If it can be demonstrated that vitamin K plays a role in the maintenance of bone mineral density, then it's a very important finding," he said.

A spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation said she was surprised by the finding.

"It is not well known that vitamin K is linked to healthy bones. Vitamin K is only used at the moment on new-born babies to help with blood clotting. This is surprising."

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See also:

24 May 00 | Health
Super-broccoli 'to fight cancer'
04 May 00 | Health
Astronauts face bone danger
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