Published: Tue, February 05, 2019
Medical | By

Women's brains are four years younger than men's on average

Women's brains are four years younger than men's on average

A new study suggests that, by at least one measure, women's brains are biologically younger than men's of the same age.

The researchers found that if you compared a male and female brain of the same chronological age, the female brain will appear to be about three years younger, they say in a press release.

Dr. Michael Bloomfield, honorary consultant psychiatrist and head of the Translational Psychiatry Research Group at University College in London, told Newsweek, "It is important that we don't draw unjustified conclusions from this study in terms of differences between men and women, but that doesn't take away the need to ask these questions". But if true, the researchers hypothesize that having a metabolically "younger" brain might provide women with "some degree of resilience to aging-related changes" in the brain. The findings, available online the week of February 4 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be one clue to why women tend to stay mentally sharp longer than men.

Further research is needed to uncover whether the neoteny of women helps them to avoid neurodegenerative diseases. The participants took part in six studies across the Washington University School of Medicine. 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'.

As we get older, our brains burn less glucose to power brain development and more to complete everyday tasks and mental challenges. But as people age, their brain undergoes a reduction in aerobic glycolysis, which reaches very low levels by the time they are in their 60s.

Time wears differently on women's and men's brains.

Obviously the exact age can vary from person to person, but to figure out if there are sex differences in that point, the research team conducted positron emission tomography (PET) scans on 205 people - 121 women and 84 men, from 20 to 82 years old.

The team trained an AI algorithm to guess people's ages based on the amount of oxygen and glucose flowing through their brain.

They then fed a machine-learning algorithm the male sample data to establish a relationship between age and brain metabolism.

They found that, when trained on men's data, the algorithm yielded brain-metabolic ages for the women that were 3.8 years younger than the women's chronological age.

The relative youthfulness of women's brains was detectable even among the youngest participants, who were in their 20s.

Next, the team will investigate why older women tend to score better on brain tests in areas including reason, memory and problem-solving than their male counterparts of the same age.

The researchers noted that the relative "metabolic youth" of women's brains also parallels the slightly longer life span of women, compared with men. While the brain tends to shrink with age, men's diminish faster than women's.

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