Catalyst 304: Body and mind

Science keeps finding new connections between our bodies and our minds. Food, exercise, what we eat and what we think all intersect in some way.

Running from man to woman

Training to be a top-level athlete is a challenge. But doing so while transitioning from one gender to another is even more difficult. From our “Catalyst” science team, the story of one woman who is meeting both of those challenges as her body – and her identity – change.

Lauren, who prefers to keep her last name private, is a competitive athlete but isn’t yet the person she feels she was always meant to be. She is transitioning from male to female. But she is also allowing scientists to study intimate changes in her body as she makes the transition.

She is a highly competitive distance runner who has won dozens of races and competed in the Boston Marathon. Before her transition, she wasn’t feeling like herself. “Not being able to be really who I feel I am, I was just like, I’m tired of this.”

Siddhartha Angadi, Ph.D, of ASU’s College of Health Solutions, said, “Right now what’s going on is that physiologically she is being rendered female.”

There haven’t been a lot of clinical studies or data regarding exogenous or estrogen during transition and what is needed for transgenders in 20 to 30 years.

Lauren is allowing Siddhartha Angadi and his Arizona State University research team to measure the ongoing changes in her body and athletic performance.

“I love running fast,” Lauren said. “I’m pushing myself as hard as I can.”

Angadi said that the biggest surprise was how quickly her performance changed after she started the hormone therapy. “When she started this study at peak exercise, her heart, on average, was putting out about 140 mLs of blood per beat. Now it’s putting out about 80. She’s absolutely losing something she’s pursued her entire life, in terms of performance, but I think within all humans, we have a sense of priorities.”

“There’s been some moments where I just seriously wanted to give up,” Lauren said. “But it’s just better to be myself. I’m tired of hiding.”

 

Does life in space change our genes?

It’s said that politics changes people. But so too does spending time in space. From our Catalyst team, a story about Kelly that’s all about space and nothing about politics.

In March of 2015, Mark Kelly’s brother, Scott Kelly, began a 340 day mission with the International Space Station.

Mark and Scott are identical twins. This gave researchers the ability to observe the impact long duration space days have on human health.

Michael Goryll, an ASU Engineering Professor, sat down with Mark Kelly to find out about this research and what it may mean for future trips to Mars.

The current differences between Mark and Scott have to do with their epigenetics.

“Epigenetics is information in addition to your DNA sequence that tells genes, not what they are, which is what the DNA sequence does, but what they should do,” said Andrew Feinberg with John Hopkins University.

When doing a blood test for both brothers, researchers found that Mark had more variability in his epigenetics.

Scott’s epigenetics remained fairly consistent, potentially due to his constant environment and consistent food. When he arrived home from his year journey, Scott was two inches taller for a short period of time and he lost some of his bone and muscle mass.

Mark Kelly said, “It takes some time for you to recover, from what we’ve seen, is that the recovery time from spaceflight is about the time you were in space. My brother’s one year spaceflight, that took him about a year to where he started to feel normal again.”

Kelly hopes that engineers will create a vehicle to stay on Mars for a long period of time and one that will be able to bring back a happy and healthy crew.

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