Is the Female Brain Inherently Younger than the Male Brain?

With as much progress as we have made in this world to regard men and women as equal beings, we must also recognize that there are some fundamental differences in biology.  That much is obvious, of course, but a new study has found that one of these differences actually protect women from neurodegenerative disease longer than their male counterparts.  

According to this new study, biological sex actually affects how our brains age. This, in turn, could actually contribute to risk for and rate of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.  It seems that adult female brains appear to be a few years younger, on average, than male brains of the same age.  Basically, then, this discovery suggests that sex may play a bigger role in brain age than we had thought before. 

Senior study author Manu Goyal, MD, comments, “We’re just starting to understand how various sex-related factors might affect the trajectory of brain aging and how that might influence the vulnerability of the brain to neurodegenerative diseases.”

He goes on to say that doctors and scientists do not really look at brain aging as something that we need to try and stop. Essentially, all aging is inevitable and not necessarily something we should stop, especially if we are already healthy. What we do need to look out for, he says, are the diseases that are associated with brain aging.   

Thus, the Washington University School of Medicine Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology professor of radiology adds, “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.”

The study follows that while the brain makes up only 2 percent of total body mass it actually uses about 25 percent of the body’s total glucose.  Effectively, as we grow older we experience a decline in metabolism in our brain, in addition to our digestive/endocrine system.  That means aging affects our brain’s ability to convert circulating glucose into energy.  

This is all affected by sex, of course, because scientists say they have seen a variety of differences in the brain in relation to stress response, gene expression, and disease.  The standing theory is that females, for whatever reason, have more youthful brains than males and that has led to studies like this.

To summarize, then, Goyal notes, “Brain metabolism may help us understand some of the differences we see between men and women as they age.”