August 20/Pittsburgh/American Chemical Society -- A substance found in red wine could help prevent mobility issues and reduce the risk of life-threatening falls amongst senior citizens, researchers announced during a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Lead researcher Dr. Jane E. Cavanaugh of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and colleagues say that resveratrol, a molecule found in the alcoholic beverage, could help older Americans live safer, more productive lives. Their research was based on studies involving laboratory mice, the ACS said in a prepared statement.

“Our study suggests that a natural compound like resveratrol, which can be obtained either through dietary supplementation or diet itself, could actually decrease some of the motor deficiencies that are seen in our aging population,” Cavanaugh said. “And that would, therefore, increase an aging person’s quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalization due to slips and falls.”

According to Cavanaugh, falls are the number one cause of injury among individuals over the age of 65, and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) said that one-third of all older Americans have balance or walking-related issues.

“These mobility problems are particularly common among older people who have Parkinson’s disease and other age-related neurological disorders, Cavanagh said… However, while drugs can help alleviate some of the motor-related problems in Parkinson’s disease, Cavanaugh points out that there are no comparable treatments for balance and walking problems in otherwise healthy older adults,” the ACS explained. “She and her colleagues set out to rectify that, focusing on natural chemical compounds such as resveratrol.”

Past research has demonstrated that the substance, which is an antioxidant found not just in red wine but also in dark-skinned fruits such as red grapes and blueberries, can help reduce inflammation, reduce a person’s cholesterol levels and cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer, the ACS said.

“To determine its effects on balance and mobility, Cavanaugh and colleagues fed young and old laboratory mice a diet containing resveratrol for eight weeks,” they explained. “They periodically tested the rodents’ ability to navigate a steel mesh balance beam, counting the number of times that each mouse took a misstep. Initially, the older mice had more difficulty maneuvering on the obstacle. But by week four, the older mice made far fewer missteps and were on par with the young mice.”

“Although she is encouraged by the results, Cavanaugh notes that resveratrol does have some drawbacks,” the ACS added. “For instance, it is poorly absorbed by the body. In fact, she calculates that a 150-pound person would have to drink almost 700 4oz. glasses of red wine a day to absorb enough resveratrol to get any beneficial effects.”

As a result, the Duquesne pharmacology professor and her associate are currently analyzing similar synthetic compounds that can mimic resveratrol’s affects while also being easier for the body to absorb. They are also trying to gauge exactly how much of the substance actually enters a person’s brain, but even a smaller amount might be enough to help senior citizens avoid losing their balance, the organization noted.