It’s unclear so far if there is significance to having a younger brain.
This research is a first of its kind and the authors of the study are only beginning to explore what they might use this data to understand and predict.
“It’s not that men’s brains age faster. They start adulthood about three years older than women and that persists throughout life,” says Dr. Manu Goyal, an assistant professor of radiology at Washington University’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology and an assistant professor of neurology and of neuroscience. “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, and we’re currently working on a study to confirm that.”
The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, is seen as an important step toward understanding gender differences in health and medicine.
“This study theorizes that factors that influence brain development, including sexual differences, and exposure to different hormonal, inflammatory, and immunological environments during development, might be very important in determining how brain aging actually plays out,” says Dr. Verna R. Porter, a neurologist and director of the Alzheimer’s disease program at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.
Porter notes that differences, such as hormonal exposure, between males and females may influence the brain’s structural development. That could affect blood flow and eventually brain health during early adulthood.
It may also be, she adds, that these differences help the female brain stay more youthful and experience fewer age-related changes.
“This observation is in keeping with other studies that have suggested that the female brain experiences less loss of cerebral blood flow following puberty, more brain glycolysis during young adulthood, and less loss of protein synthesis-related gene expression during aging,” Porter told Healthline.
However, it’s important to note that while women have younger metabolic brain age, it is unclear if it has any protective effects on women’s brains in the long run.
Take for example the rates of Alzheimer’s disease. Two-thirds of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are women. After age 60, women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease than breast cancer.
While this study looked at people who were cognitively normal (that is, their brains showed no signs of impairment, plaque growth, or disease), the results may open a field of research that could improve the understanding of brain health and disease development.