The mouse data suggests that consumption of the red wine compound could help to improve mobility and prevent life-threatening falls among older people.
Speaking at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Dr Jane Cavanaugh of Duquesne University, USA, revealed that the study findings – if found to be true in humans – could lead to the development of natural dietary products that boost the mobility and productivity of elderly people around the globe.
"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 Cavanaugh. "And that would, therefore, increase an aging person's quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalization due to slips and falls."
The new study, believed to be the first of its kind, fed young and old laboratory mice a diet containing resveratrol for eight weeks.
The team 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 manoeuvring on the obstacle, she revealed, but by the fourth week the older mice made far fewer missteps and were on par with the young mice.
In further work, Cavanagh's team found clues to how resveratrol might have such effects, she revealed.
Laboratory experiments, exposing neural cells to the dopamine, which in large amounts can induce cell death, she explained. However, neurons treated with resveratrol before being exposed to dopamine survive.
On closer examination, the researchers found that resveratrol lessened the damage done by oxygen free radicals generated by the breakdown of the dopamine, and activated protein signalling pathways that appeared to promote cell survival.
Although she is encouraged by the results, Cavanaugh noted that resveratrol does have some drawbacks in its natural form. For instance, it is poorly absorbed by the body. In fact, she calculates that a 150-pound person would have to drink almost 700 glasses of red wine a day to absorb enough resveratrol to get see beneficial effects.