PhotoResveratrol, a substance in the skin of red grapes and other fruit, is credited with many potent health benefits.

Among them are resistance to some cancers, increased heart health, anti-diabetic effects and reduced inflammation. Now there's another.

Researchers studying resveratrol and the elderly conclude that it may help seniors remain upright, preventing falls that cause many serious and debilitating injuries.

“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,” said Jane E. Cavanaugh, Ph.D., leader of the research team. “And that would, therefore, increase an aging person’s quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalization due to slips and falls.”

Preventing falls

Falls become more common with advancing age and are the leading cause of injury-related death among people older than 65. In addition, about one in three older Americans has difficulty with balance or walking, according to the American Geriatrics Society.

Other diseases associated with aging can make mobility issues even more serious for seniors. 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. She and her colleagues set out to rectify that, focusing on natural chemical compounds such as resveratrol.

Previous studies have suggested resveratrol is something of a wonder agent. These studies suggest this antioxidant found in red wine and dark-skinned fruits might help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, slash the risk of heart disease and certain cancers and, perhaps, have some anti-aging effects in the body.

Not much resveratrol in wine

If you don't drink alcohol, you can still get plenty of Resveratrol. In fact, red wine actually contains very little of the substance. It is more abundant in the form of a dietary supplement and is present in foods such as red grapes, blueberries and nuts.

How does Cavanaugh know resveratrol promotes balance and mobility? Experiments on laboratory rodents. The researchers fed young and old laboratory mice a diet containing resveratrol for eight weeks. From time to time they tested the rodents’ ability to navigate a steel mesh balance beam, counting the number of times that each mouse fell.

At first the older mice had a harder time dealing with the obstacle. But by week four, the older mice were performing much the same as the young mice.

Cavanagh’s team also found some clues as to why resveratrol works in the body. Experiments on cells found that those fortified with resveratrol mitigated the damage done by oxygen free radicals. Overall, resveratrol seemed to promote healthier cells.

While the research is encouraging, it is not an excuse to have a second glass of red wine with dinner. In fact, to get any positive effects from resveratrol Cavanaugh believes it has to be taken in concentrated doses in the form of a manufactured compound.

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