The stunning find may explain why girls stay sharper as they get older than boys, scientists said. The research by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that while the brain tends to shrink with age, men's diminish faster than women's and brain's metabolism slows as people grow older, and this, too, may differ between men and women.
Some theorists have predicted that females might have more youthful brains compared with males, but findings supporting this idea have been contradictory.
The researchers recruited 205 people aged 20 to 82 to undergo brain imaging scans that measured the flow of oxygen and sugar within their brains. Goyal said, "We don't see brain aging itself as something that needs to be "halted" He added that, "what we need to understand is how brain aging contributes to diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, and why some people are more or less resilient to developing Alzheimer's and other brain diseases". Goyal, Raichle, Vlassenko and colleagues are now following a cohort of adults over time to see whether people with younger-looking brains are less likely to develop cognitive problems.
To ensure their data was on point, the researchers also used the same algorithm but in reverse, feeding first the women's data and then applying it to the men's. It calculated that the women were, on average, 3.8 years younger than they actually were.
"Women's brains are almost four years younger than men's, at least in how they burn fuel, according to scans performed by U.S. researchers", The Guardian reports.
These pieces of evidence are suggestive of a form of neoteny in the female brain, (assuming male brains as the baseline, which is something scientists do), but no one had looked at metabolism - how the brain runs on glucose - until now.
They then analysed the male and female brains separately (108 women and 76 men). He said the relative youthfulness of women's brains was detectable even among the youngest participants, who were in their 20s.
Regardless of the trigger, increased metabolism could give female brains an edge in the case of studying and creativity in later life, Goyal says. In fact, the findings are not entirely surprising because it has been known that men start adulthood about three years older than women and apparently, this persists throughout their entire lives. But if true, the researchers hypothesize that having a metabolically "younger" brain might provide women with "some degree of resilience to aging-related changes" in the brain. Notably, many of these studies are performed by comparing age-matched females and males.
Prior work has identified many sex differences in the brain, including during brain aging and in neurodegenerative diseases.
Women may have the advantage over men when it comes to brainpower.
The researchers suspect that women gain this advantage during puberty, Goyal said.
"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.
Human brain aging is characterized by varying trajectories.
GOYAL: It makes us wonder, are hormones involved in influencing brain metabolism and how it ages?
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