The present study was undertaken to investigate the ability of dietary supplements to reduce the formation and severity of cataracts in mice irradiated with high-energy protons or iron ions, which are important components of the radiation encountered by astronauts during space travel. The mice were exposed to proton or iron-ion radiation and fed with a control diet or diets supplemented with the soybean-derived protease inhibitor, Bowman-Birk inhibitor (BBI), in the form of BBI Concentrate (BBIC) or an antioxidant formulation [containing l-selenomethionine (SeM), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), ascorbic acid, co-enzyme Q10, α-lipoic acid and vitamin E succinate] both before and after the radiation exposure. At approximately 2 years after the radiation exposure, the animals were killed humanely and lenses were harvested and characterized using an established classification system that assigns discrete scores based on the severity of the lens opacifications. The results showed that exposure to 1 GeV/nucleon proton (3 Gy) or iron-ion (50 cGy) radiation significantly increased the cataract prevalence and severity in CBA/J mice to levels above the baseline levels of age-induced cataract formation in this mouse strain. Treatment with BBIC or the antioxidant formulation significantly reduced the prevalence and severity of the lens opacifications in the mice exposed to iron-ion radiation. Treatment with BBIC or the antioxidant formulation also decreased the severity of the lens opacifications in the mice exposed to proton radiation; however, the decrease did not reach statistical significance. These results indicate that BBIC and the antioxidant formulation evaluated in this study could be useful for protecting astronauts against space radiation-induced cataracts during or after long-term manned space missions.
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