However, women's metabolic brain age tended to be about 4 years younger than men.
Scientists believe that a "younger brain" uses a higher proportion of glucose to fuel development, possibly strengthening certain areas. The study eventually revealed that female brains were determined to be metabolically younger than their chronological age. "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", Goyal said The study shows that older women tend to score better than men of the same age on tests of reason, memory and problem solving. Doing it this way, the algorithm reported that the men's brains were about 2.4 years older than their actual chronological ages. Evolutionary theorists have predicted that females might have more youthful brains (neoteny) as compared with males, but until now findings in support of this theory have been limited to postmortem transcriptional analysis, some of which is contradictory. "It's not that men's brains age faster - they start adulthood about three years older than women, and that persists throughout life", he added.
"This vast 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.
The finding is "great news for many women", says Roberta Diaz Brinton, who wasn't connected with the study and directs the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the University of Arizona Health Sciences.
That may help protect against the loss of grey matter which causes thinking problems in old age, although more research is needed to discover if this is the case.
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MANU GOYAL: We could perhaps predict the age of the brain using that metabolic information.
Scientists have seen a variety of sex differences in the brain, including stress response, some gene expression and disease.
To confirm that the female-male difference in metabolic brain age was not specific to training on male data, the researchers flipped the process, training the algorithm on female data only.
The jury is still out on whether cognitive differences between men and women are created by nature or nurture - or to what extent they even exist - but we do know that average structural differences between the sexes are a real thing. "Differences in how a female's and a male's brain develops across puberty sets the stage for how they're going to age subsequently". "Males, their blood flow to the brain decreases quite a bit as they go through puberty".
The researchers analyzed brain scans of more than 200 adults, specifically looking at a measure of the brain's metabolism that's known to change with age. But Roberta Diaz Brinton, who studies brain aging at the University of Arizona, has a more optimistic take on the results.
GOYAL: It makes us wonder, are hormones involved in influencing brain metabolism and how it ages?
Did sex affect brain age?