Why women's grey matter ages better than men's

You've heard of being "young at heart", but what about young in the brain?

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".

The discovery may help to explain why women tend to stay mentally sharp longer than men in their later years. However, it's possible that it could explain why "women don't experience as much cognitive decline [as men] in later years, . because their brains are effectively younger".

That is based on their use of glucose, and how it is burned for energy, which can affect brain performance.

"It´s not that men´s brains age faster", said senior author Manu Goyal, assistant professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. First, the scientists taught it to predict men's ages from metabolism data gleaned from the male brain scans. It is scaled down in adolescents and young adults, then drops steadily in older people until it reaches a very low level by the time people reach their 60s.

But little is known about how brain metabolism differs between men and women.

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'Brain metabolism might help us understand some of the differences we see between men and women as they age.' Researchers compared 205 men and women's actual age to the age of their brain based on its use of glucose and oxygen as fuel. This time, when they fed metabolism data from the men into the computer, it estimated them to be 2.4 years older than they were. But just how it metabolizes glucose can reveal a lot about the brain´s metabolic age.

A machine-learned algorithm showed that women´s brains were on average about 3.8 years younger than their chronological ages.

Interestingly, the gap between men and women's brain ages was detectable even in young adults in their 20s. "They start adulthood about three years older than women and that persists throughout life", he said.

Pointing to existing research, the team surmised that women's brains could be free from neurocongitive decline for longer for a number of reasons.

Still, Goyal noted that the difference between men and women's brain ages was relatively small compared with other well-known 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'.

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