While too many glasses of red wine are likely to inhibit elderly peoples' balance, new research has found a molecule found in red wine could hold the key to reducing falls.
It appears resveratrol, found in the skin of red wine grapes, could help improve mobility and prevent life-threatening falls in older people.
The findings, which were presented to the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, could lead to the development of natural products to help keep older citizens safe.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalisation for elderly Australians.
There were more than 78,000 cases in the over-65s between 2008 and 2009.
Resveratrol is available as a dietary supplement and is also found in blueberries and nuts. Previous research has suggested it could help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers.
In the latest research, mice were fed a diet containing resveratrol for eight weeks. They were measured on their ability to navigate a steel mesh balance beam.
In the beginning, the elderly mice had difficulty, but after four weeks they made fewer missteps and had similar balance to the younger mice.
Dr Jane Cavanaugh from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh US, who led the study, said it appears resveratrol undoes free radical damage and helps cells survive.
"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 ageing population," Cavanaugh said in a media release.
"And that would therefore increase an ageing person's quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalisation due to slips and falls."
Cavanaugh said the research is interesting because there are currently no treatments to help balance in healthy older adults.
But simply increasing red wine intake is likely to do more damage than good — Cavanaugh estimates a 68kg person would need about 700 glasses of wine each day because resveratrol is poorly absorbed by the body.
Cavanaugh's next step is to research a similar man-made product that can be more readily absorbed by the body.