USF assistant professor chosen as part of NASA expedition

- Associate Professor Dominic D'Agostino, has been selected to be one of four crew members in a NASA expedition starting on June 18.

D'Agostino will study how extreme environments impact the human body.

He says his ten years working at the University of South Florida's hyperbaric biomedical research center prepared him for the ten day mission that will take place in an underwater lab.

Part of that training began in 2008 while trying to help Navy Seals. 

To avoid detection, divers used oxygen rebreather masks, that don't create bubbles. 

The high oxygen levels were triggering seizures.

"I did a simple search what do people do when they have drug resistant seizures and I stumbled upon the ketogenic diet," he says.

The diet worked but it was tough for deployed military to follow. 

That's when he developed patented bio-identical ketone supplements.

"Instead of getting into ketosis with the diet, which takes 24-48 hours, we can achieve it in 15 minutes," he says.

Now he'll begin exploring whether the ketogenic diet is a good fit for deep space missions, like the mission to Mars.

"They're interested in fueling astronauts for long duration space flights and developing food that has a higher energy density," he explains.

But instead of researching in his lab, he'll be sixty two feet below the water's surface off the coast of Key West, Florida. 

D'Agostino will be joining the NEEMO team, short for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project in a Florida International University lab called Aquarius.

The carbohydrate restricted diet switches your body's fuel source from sugar to fats or ketones.

"Your body is a hybrid system, think of it like a Prius car, where you're getting energy from the gas engine but if you really step on it the electric can kick in."

He says that lowers pro-inflammatory insulin levels and curbs the appetite.

Recently he's been combining the diet with fasting, "Two or three days out of the week now I've been doing intermittent fasting where I only eat between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm, so I eat within a 6 hour window, and today is one of those days so I haven't eaten anything today."

As for the mission to Mars, D’Agostino believes ketogenic diets may help prevent cancers from cosmic radiation, reduce cargo weight, and the effects of weightlessness by sparing protein loss.

He also describes the diet as calming, helping him sleep and think especially after fasting.

"Typically that's when I feel the most lucid and have the most energy," he tells me that's when he budgets in time to write manuscripts.

During his underwater stay he'll also spend time outside the habitat, simulating tasks simulating that could be performed on Mars.

D'Agostino will be the only person in the 6 member group on the ketogenic diet studying its effects on his nervous system, body composition, even the bacteria in his gut.

His wife, Dr. Csilla Ari D'Agostino, a U.S.F. neuroscientist will join him on the mission.

If you’re tempted to try the diet, it can cause side effects so it's best to be monitored by a doctor.

 

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