Female Brains Appear to Be More Youthful Than Male Ones, Study Suggests

Alicia Farmer
February 6, 2019

It was already known that men's brains shrink faster with age than women's, but the new results suggest their brain metabolism is different too.

"Females had a younger brain age relative to males", says Dr. Manu Goyal, an assistant professor of radiology and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

With their new study, the scientists tried to gauge the "metabolic age" of people's brains, focusing on a process that uses glucose sugar to sustain brain development as people grow from children to adults. "When we started looking at that, we were pleasantly surprised that when the machine was trying to age a woman compared to a man, it consistently aged the woman to be a little bit younger than the man", Goyal said. By having "younger" brains, women utilize glucose in a more efficient way.

The study came after Goyal and a team of researchers studied the brain scans of 205 people whose ages ranged from 20 to 82.

Brain aging is linked with a gradual decline in brain metabolism - the chemical processes that help it run.

As brain metabolism decreases in these women, Brinton says, there's an increase in the sticky proteins that are associated with Alzheimer's. In adolescents and young adults, a considerable portion of brain sugar also is devoted to aerobic glycolysis, but the fraction drops steadily with age, leveling off at very low amounts by the time people are in their 60s.

Scientists measuring the brain activity of more than 200 people found that female brains were more youthful than those of males of the same age.

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The algorithm yielded brain ages an average of 3.8 years younger than the women's chronological age, according to the study.

The team initially hoped to use the metabolic information to predict a person's age.

It turns out that female brains tend to age more slowly, researchers report.

'What we don't know is what it means.

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". 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'.

Older women tend to score better than men of the same age on tests of reason, memory and problem solving.

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