Women's brains appear 'years younger' than men's

Pearl Mccarthy
February 6, 2019

This difference could be why women tend to stay mentally sharp for longer than men, the researchers said.

They employed an artificial intelligence algorithm to find a relationship between age and brain metabolism by feeding it the men's ages and brain metabolism data.

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.

The study, which focused on how the brain uses sugar, involved 121 women and 84 men ranging in age from 20 to 82 years.

The team assessed measurements of regional total glucose use, oxygen consumption, and cerebral blood flow, and calculated the fraction of sugar committed to aerobic glycolysis in various regions of the brain. The persistence of relatively younger metabolic brain age in females throughout adulthood suggests that development might in part influence sex differences in brain aging.

Then, the researchers flipped their analysis: they trained the algorithm on women's data, and told it to calculate the brain ages for men.

The researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which produce detailed images that show how the brain is working.

The algorithm guessed that the female brains were aged around 3.8 years younger than their actual, chronological age. Then they reversed the process and had the computer estimate a person's age using information on brain metabolism.

This can cause problems later in life and scientists hope to one day slow it down with state-of-the-art drugs or brain therapy.

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To confirm that the female-male difference in metabolic brain age was not specific to training on male data, the researchers flipped the process, training the algorithm on female data only. "Differences in how a female's and a male's brain develops across puberty sets the stage for how they're going to age subsequently".

A group of researchers from the USA took specialist brain scans from almost 200 healthy adults aged between 20 and 80.

Scientists have just found a new distinction between the brains of the two sexes: age-related changes to the brain occur more slowly in women than in men.

But researchers have understood little about how brain metabolism differs between men and women. But women may be better than men at resisting this decline. More brain sugar is devoted to aerobic glycolysis in children and young adults, but the fraction drops steadily with age, leveling off at very low amounts by the time people are in their 60s, Goyal and co-authors noted.

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

Prior work has identified many sex differences in the brain, including during brain aging and in neurodegenerative diseases.

"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.

Did sex affect brain age?

At any age, you can help protect your health by having a balanced diet, taking regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, not smoking and drinking in moderation.

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