Women's brains appear about three years younger than men's, study finds

Credit Flickr _DJ

Credit Flickr _DJ

"Boys will be boys" goes the old saying, but girls might have the last laugh.

New research suggests that women's brains stay energized well into old age, making their brains appear about three years younger than men's of the same chronological age.

Scientists have observed that people's brains change both in structure and function as they grow older. So Goyal and colleagues, including Marcus Raichle, MD, the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Medicine and a professor of radiology, and Andrei Vlassenko, MD, PhD, an associate professor of radiology, studied 205 people to figure out how their brains use sugar.

The metabolic data was fed into a computer program to calculate brain age. The brain then tends to use less and less sugar as we progress from adolescence into adulthood and old age.

The researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm on men's age and their brain metabolism, taken from PET scans by measuring the flow of oxygen and glucose in their brains, and applied it to women's.

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis examining brain metabolisms found that women's brains look about three years younger than the brains of men their age. It's not clear yet what mechanism might be involved but one hunch is that estrogen may help the brain form more synapses at a young age, which would explain why women require more energy later on. For each person, the researchers determined the fraction of sugar committed to aerobic glycolysis in various regions of the brain.

Time has a different impact on men's and women's brains. Consequently, women's brains look younger than men's from a metabolic standpoint.

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"It's not that women's brains seem to age slower than men's", Goyal said. "Rather, it seems that women's brains start off at a younger age when they reach adulthood, and they keep that throughout the remainder of their adulthood, basically buying them a few extra years". In women, it doesn't decrease as much.

Sex differences during brain development likely set the stage for brain aging later in life.

"Dementia is such a complex process", Goyal said. "This might mean women are a little bit more resilient to certain aspects of brain ageing in general, but it could also introduce certain vulnerabilities".

Confirming what you've long suspected (kidding, kidding), your brain is younger than a guy's brain. "What we don't know is what it means". Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY who specializes in memory disorders, joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss the findings.

"The typical female brain is more energetically youthful than the typical male brain throughout life". She was not part of the study.

To gauge such sex-based differences, the team captured brain imaging scans of 121 women and 84 men aged 20 to 82, according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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