Talk about a brain drain.
A new study suggests men’s brains appear to be older than women’s brains.
In terms of brain metabolism, the brain of a typical 30-year-old woman appears to be three to four years younger than the brain of a 30-year-old man, the study says.
This remains true throughout the adult life span and may be one clue as to why women often stay mentally sharp longer than men.
“Brain metabolism might help us understand some of the differences we see between men and women as they age,” said study lead author Manu Goyal, an assistant professor of radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The study participants – 121 women and 84 men, ranging in age from 20 to 82 years – underwent PET scans to measure the flow of oxygen and glucose in their brains.
The findings suggest that gender affects brain aging and could contribute to stronger brain health and the ability to ward off disease later in life.
“It’s not that men’s brains age faster – they start adulthood about three years older than women, and that persists throughout life,” Goyal said. “What we don’t know is what it means.
“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,” he said, “and we’re currently working on a study to confirm that.”
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The finding is “great news for many women,” the University of Arizona’s Roberta Diaz Brinton told NPR. Brinton, who wasn’t connected with the study, said some women’s brains experience a dramatic metabolic decline around menopause, leaving them vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.
Brain aging is one of many differences between the sexes. “It is stronger than many sex differences that have been reported, but it’s nowhere near as big a difference as some sex differences, such as height,” Goyal said.
In a follow-up study, the research team is following a group of adults over time to see whether people with younger-looking brains are less likely to develop cognitive problems.
The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.