Red wine isn’t usually associated with being steady on your feet.
But a ‘miracle ingredient’ in it could have that effect on pensioners, scientists claim.
They say that resveratrol, which is already credited with a host of health benefits from cutting cholesterol to warding off cancer, boosts balance and improves mobility.
In tests, old mice that were given the plant chemical for a few weeks became just as sprightly as young animals.
If resveratrol has similar effects on the human body, it could help prevent the painful falls and fractures from which many pensioners struggle to recover.
Falls are one of the leading causes of death in the over-75s, and half of elderly women die within two years of a fall.
The US researchers said: ‘Our study suggests that a natural compound like resveratrol, which can be obtained through dietary supplementation or diet itself, could actually decrease some of the motor deficiencies that are seen in our ageing population.
‘That would therefore increase an ageing person’s quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalisation due to slips and falls.’ The researchers, from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, fed resveratrol to young and old mice for eight weeks and regularly tested their ability to walk along a rodent-sized beam.
Initially, the older mice struggled but, over time, they became just as deft on their paws as the younger animals.
An American Chemical Society conference heard that it is not entirely clear how resveratrol, which is found in the grape skins that give red wine its colour, improves balance.
But rather than it strengthening bones or muscles, studies on cells in a dish suggest it helps ailing brain cells survive.
But don’t reach for the wine bottle just yet – you would fall over long before you drank the required amount.
Despite its potential in lab tests, resveratrol is so poorly absorbed by the human body that someone would have to drink several hundred glasses of wine a day to get the benefits enjoyed by the mice.
The researchers are now looking for compounds that work just as well but at much lower quantities.
They say that while there are medicines available to help improve balance and co-ordination in people with diseases such as Parkinson’s, there is nothing for otherwise healthy pensioners who are not as steady on their feet as they used to be.