Researchers believe that resveratrol, a chemical compound found in red wine, may help reduce the risk of falls among the elderly, according to a report presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. The study, conducted at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, found that older lab mice grew more coordinated when resveratrol was included in their diet and that nerve tissue resisted the effects of age.
One in three Americans over the age of 65 have trouble walking and maintaining their balance, according to the American Geriatrics Society. These falls can lead to injury and hospital visits, according to the report's lead author, Jane Cavanaugh, an assistant professor of pharmacology at the university. While there are pharmaceutical treatments for conditions that cause movement and balance issues, such as Parkinson's Disease, there are no comparable treatments for otherwise healthy adults, said Cavanaugh.
Previous studies show that the red wine chemical resveratrol, found in red grape skins, blueberries and other plants, may help fight inflammation and boost heart health. It may even lower the risk of certain cancers.
In order to test if resveratrol may help against age-related imbalance, graduate student Erika Allen fed young and old laboratory mice a diet containing doses of resveratrol for eight weeks. She also tested the rodents' stability using a steel mesh balance beam, noting each misstep and stumble.
At the start, Allen noted that the older mice found walking across the balance beam difficult. By the fourth week on resveratrol, however, the older mice made far fewer missteps and were on par with the young mice.
In further lab experiments, the scientists also found that neurons treated with resveratrol survived despite being treated with cell-death-inducing dopamine. The administration of dopamine causes stress similar to what is seen with age, Cavanaugh said. This stress causes neural death.
"We believe that resveratrol is either removing the byproducts of dopamine metabolism, which are harmful to neural cells, or increasing resistance in the cells themselves," Cavanaugh told Wine Spectator.
However, the level of resveratrol used in the mouse experiments was very high. Cavanaugh estimates for humans to absorb similar amounts of resveratrol, a 150-pound person would have to drink almost 700 glasses of red wine a day.
But she also thinks minute portions may still aid the elderly. Furthermore, Cavanaugh doesn't think a resveratrol supplement could be as effective. "We think that resveratrol is best acquired through the diet," she said. "In fact, we have done a comparison between a resveratrol [supplement] alone to a blueberry diet and our preliminary data suggests that whole fruit may be more effective at reversing age-related motor deficits."
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