Medicine

Why women tend to stay mentally sharp longer than men?

Why women tend to stay mentally sharp longer than men?

A new study has revealed that women have a more youthful brain compared to similar aged male counterparts when it comes to metabolism.

"This huge amount of data" allowed the researchers "to convincingly show that, no matter how you look at it, males have more accelerated metabolic brain age (e.g., greater than their actual calendar age)", said Lockhart, who was not involved in the new study but who has researched the roles of vascular and metabolic disorders in the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Obviously the exact age can vary from person to person, but to figure out if there are sex differences in that point, the research team conducted positron emission tomography (PET) scans on 205 people - 121 women and 84 men, from 20 to 82 years old.

The study appears February 4 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They found that, when trained on men's data, the algorithm yielded brain-metabolic ages for the women that were 3.8 years younger than the women's chronological age.

Older women tend to score better than men of the same age on tests of reason, memory and problem solving. "The average difference in calculated brain age between men and women is significant and reproducible, but it is only a fraction of the difference between any two individuals", stated Manu Goyal, an assistant professor of radiology at the Washington University's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. This time, according to them, the algorithm reported that men's brains were 2.4 years older than their true ages. The brain still uses sugar for cognitive function, but aerobic glycolysis plateaus at a low level usually by the time people are in their 60s. Our recent multitracer PET brain imaging data demonstrate that as the brain ages, its resting metabolism gradually shifts away from a mixture of nonoxidative and oxidative use of glucose to predominantly oxidative metabolism (4, 5).

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Then they reversed the process and had the computer estimate a person's age based on brain metabolism data. The team performed a variety of calculations and analyses that showed different results, though the overall result was the same: Female brains were determined to be metabolically younger than their chronological age, though this difference between actual age and metabolic age was "relatively small", Goyal said. "This might mean women are a little bit more resilient to certain aspects of brain aging in general, but it could also introduce certain vulnerabilities". The findings could explain why women maintain their cognitive skills longer than men. Sex differences during brain development, then, might set the stage for the overall trajectory of brain aging.

However, new research focused on metabolic processes that have a major influence on brain performance and ageing.

Regardless of the trigger, increased metabolism could give female brains an edge in the case of studying and creativity in later life, Goyal says. Studies in rodents, meanwhile, suggested that estrogen could make the brain more adaptable to change. We can't be sure that the same findings would be seen in other population groups, including for example people with degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's.

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


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