With evidence of vitamin deficiencies dating back to the days of Columbus' expedition, explorers throughout history have witnessed the importance of nutrition. Scientists are working to determine nutrition requirements for extended-duration spaceflight to maintain astronaut health as well as to develop and validate nutritional countermeasures to prevent or minimize the negative effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. Scientists at USRA's Division of Space Life Sciences are participating in collaborative projects includind two ongoing flight research studies and several ground-based projects with universities across the U.S. and around the world. These have National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded projects to determine how nutritional status is related to elderly self-neglect, and Antarctic studies of vitamin D.
In late 2010, the Institute of Medicine released new evidence-based guidelines for recommended intake levels of vitamin D. In a report of the evidence for the new Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), one of the studies cited was a study performed in Antarctica by NASA's Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory. Because the body can make vitamin D when it is exposed to ultraviolet light, it is difficult to estimate dietary requirements. Studies performed in the winter months in Antarctica are ideal because there is little to no sunlight to confound the data. This is documented evidence of how NASA-research can have implications far beyond those who leave the planet.