So there’s new research that shows women’s brains remain younger than men as they age – yes – apparently, it may be true. While this may not surprise some, what is surprising is that it could mean women are more able to learn and be creative later on in life, according to Dr Manu Goyal, an assistant professor of radiology and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and one of the researchers on the new study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As someone who is constantly worried that I have early onset dementia because of how often I forget things, this comes as somewhat of a relief!
As part of the study, Goyal and a team of researchers studied the brain scans of 205 people ages 20-82. Using a type of scan called a positron emission tomography (which sounds like something used for time travel, but is really just an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning) they were able to assess the metabolism of a person’s brain by measuring the amount of oxygen and glucose being used in different areas.
Their hope was to use this information to predict a person’s age by having a computer study how metabolism changes in men and women. After the computer studied this, they reversed the process to have it estimate the person’s age based on the metabolic data. And it worked! But it’s not totally fool-proof – there’s a huge difference between a person’s brain age and chronological age. In fact, the answer seems to be based on gender. After going over their data, researchers realized that females had a younger brain – about four years younger on average.
While they’re not quite sure why this is, one reason could be that the metabolism in women’s brains protects them at a young age, says Roberta Diaz Brinton, University of Arizona’s director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science. As women start going through menopause, they experience an “energy transition in the brain” which means a lot less metabolism, putting them at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Not all women are affected but if they have certain genes linked to Alzheimer’s or show signs of having Type 2 Diabetes, it’s something worth checking with your doctor about.
Experts are discovering new ways to potentially predict Alzheimer’s. Another study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that older women had higher measures of tau (an Alzheimer’s related protein) compared to men, putting them at greater risk for the disease. The protein tau is found in an area of the brain involved in memory. Experts say that people who have more beta-amyloid (another Alzheimer’s related protein) also have more tau. Together, these two proteins play a part early on in the disease progression, years before symptoms like memory loss appear.
While there’s still no cure in sight for diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia, things like diet, exercise, and medication can help slow down the progression of the disease. When Chef Paula Wolfert was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia, it meant losing all memory of the taste and names of food, as well as recipes. With few answers from the medical world, Paula sought guidance from her 50 years of experience in the culinary world. She found that with a strict diet, nutritional supplements, and intermittent fasting, she could slow the progression of the disease. For some, this could be the answer they need.
Hopefully, this opens up further research into how Alzheimer’s and dementia affect men and women’s brains differently. Not only will it allow people to better prepare for these types of diseases but maybe even help in the search for a cure. Furthermore, it will help improve women’s lives. As a woman, I know that our health issues are often overlooked and are often not taken seriously. In 2016, new research showed that women with dementia received worse treatment than men who had the same condition. It’s time for doctors to quit telling women that their symptoms are “all in their head.” I know forgetting my keys or not remembering people’s names doesn’t automatically mean I’m suffering from early onset dementia, but there’s nothing wrong with being self-aware of any early signs. Having your fears acknowledged could mean saving your brain.
So basically, scientists should use this research to also further study how it will affect trans and non-binary brains rather than just cis female and male brains. Our healthcare should be intersectional and diverse, just like us.