Long-term sodium balance in humans in a terrestrial space station simulation study

Am J Kidney Dis. 2002 Sep;40(3):508-16. doi: 10.1053/ajkd.2002.34908.


Background: Sodium accumulation has been considered to take place in the extracellular space, leading to water retention and weight gain. This traditional view has been questioned by recent studies that showed sodium accumulation in humans without expansion of the extracellular volume. We investigated sodium balance and its impact on body weight (BW) during a long-term balance study.

Methods: Three healthy subjects were confined to a terrestrial MIR simulator for 135 days under conditions simulating a long-term spaceflight. During the entire isolation period, we meticulously measured daily sodium balance and its contribution to BW.

Results: During the study period, subjects accumulated between 2,973 and 7,324 mmol of sodium and gained between 5.1 and 9.3 kg in weight. In all subjects, there was a positive correlation between changes in total-body sodium (DeltaTBS) content and BW, reflecting sodium-associated volume expansion. However, toward the end of isolation, sodium gain exceeded weight gain, suggesting that sodium accumulated in an osmotically inactive form. Especially at the onset of the experiment, two subjects showed inverse correlations between DeltaTBS and BW.

Conclusion: The finding of sodium gain without weight gain is in contradiction to the widely accepted theory that changes in TBS levels are accompanied by changes in extracellular volume. We suggest the existence of a sodium reservoir with the ability to store significant amounts of sodium in an osmotically inactive form. This reservoir might be located in bone, dense connective tissue, or cartilage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Water / metabolism
  • Body Water / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Bone and Bones / physiology
  • Connective Tissue Cells / metabolism
  • Connective Tissue Cells / physiology
  • Extracellular Space / chemistry
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Sodium / physiology
  • Space Simulation / methods*
  • Spacecraft*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*
  • Weight Gain / physiology


  • Sodium