Study suggests women's brains are 'younger' than men's brains

Henrietta Brewer
February 6, 2019

Men's brains may be larger but women hold a trump card in the mental battle of the sexes: their grey matter behaves as if it were three years younger.

"Women's brains are almost four years younger than men's, at least in how they burn fuel, according to scans performed by United States researchers", The Guardian reports.

You can find out more about the results in the video above. 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.

"It's not that men's brains age faster - they start adulthood about three years older than women, and that persists throughout life", said Dr. Manu Goyal, the study lead scientist from Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis. To sort through the data, the researchers used machine learning to calculate each of the participants' brain age based on their metabolism.

Although researchers have so far explored a lot of the processes that make women age differently than men, so far brain metabolism was one area where very little was understood.


Goyal said that while the differences between the brain age of men and women was "significant", it was "nowhere near as big a difference as some sex differences, such as height".

The brain's major fuel source is sugar, or glucose, but exactly how the brain uses glucose changes with age.

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

They then fed it the brain scans of their 205 volunteers. Based on the male benchmark, the algorithm judged women's brains an average of 3.8 years younger than their actual age.

When it comes to brains, it's women who have staying power, according to the latest research. The findings could explain why women maintain their cognitive skills longer than men. But she cautions that even though women's brain metabolism is higher overall, some women's brains experience a dramatic metabolic decline around menopause, leaving them vulnerable to Alzheimer's.


A group of researchers from the USA took specialist brain scans from almost 200 healthy adults aged between 20 and 80. "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". But Roberta Diaz Brinton, who studies brain aging at the University of Arizona, has a more optimistic take on the results.

"What we don't know is what it means". "Estrogen, which increases vitality of the brain regions involved in memory, but which plummets after menopause in women, may be a factor, although multiple other factors are likely involved".

Goyal and his co-authors explained that their findings are consistent with evidence from previous studies indicating that, compared with the male brain, the female brain displays less cerebral blood flow loss after puberty, more brain glycolysis (or breaking down of glucose) in young adulthood and decreased loss of certain types of cerebral gene expression over time.

He concluded that diet and exercise can keep the metabolism of the brain running and can have an influence on "healthy aging and in disease".

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about the aging brain.


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