Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Women's Brains Stay Sharper Longer Than Men's, New Study Finds

Women's Brains Stay Sharper Longer Than Men's, New Study Finds

While age reduces the metabolism of all brains, women retain a higher rate throughout the lifespan, researchers reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A study from Washington University showed that women's brains were about three years younger than men's, offering a clue to why women tend to stay mentally sharp longer than men.

The researchers recruited 205 people aged 20 to 82 to undergo brain imaging scans that measured the flow of oxygen and sugar within their brains. When people are younger, they devote more glucose to a metabolic process called "aerobic glycolysis", which is thought to help with brain development and maturation, including brain-cell growth.

As adulthood progresses, people get less of the glucose pumped through the brain, reducing the energy funneled into the process.

"On average, it found that women appeared to be younger than men in terms of their metabolic brain age, in terms of what their brain metabolism pattern looked like", he said.

Girls are inclined to have younger brains than their male counterparts - at the very least regarding metabolism. "The average difference in calculated brain age between men and women is significant and reproducible, but it is only a fraction of the difference between any two individuals", stated Manu Goyal, an assistant professor of radiology at the Washington University's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

Goyal said that more research work is being done to confirm and better understand the implications of the research, which could even explain why women tend to stave off cognitive decline for longer.

That may help protect against the loss of grey matter which causes thinking problems in old age, although more research is needed to discover if this is the case. We find that throughout the adult life span the female brain has a persistently lower metabolic brain age-relative to their chronological age-compared with the male brain.

"It's not that women's brains seem to age slower than men's", Goyal said.

Scientists have seen a variety of sex differences in the brain, including stress response, some gene expression and disease.

The researchers also performed the analysis in reverse.

Women may have the advantage over men when it comes to brainpower.

The researchers are now following a cohort of adults over time to see whether people with younger-looking brains are less likely to develop cognitive problems. They then noted that there was a difference among men and women.

Brain aging is associated with a gradual decline in brain metabolism.

The researchers suspect that women gain this advantage during puberty, Goyal said.

Combined, past and present findings suggest that the female brain is more youthful beginning in young adulthood and that this persists throughout her life.

"I think this could mean that the reason women don't experience as much cognitive decline in later years is because their brains are effectively younger, and we're now working on a study to confirm that", he added.

GOYAL: It makes us wonder, are hormones involved in influencing brain metabolism and how it ages?

Human brain aging is characterized by varying trajectories.

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