Scientists have known for some time that the brains of men and women are affected differently when it comes to neurological disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease). In fact, women are known to have significantly higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and depression than men. Depression is one of many risk factors for AD. Men are known to experience higher rates of neurological conditions such as attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and other disorders.
Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dean of the College of Sciences at The University of Texas at San Antonio, Dr. George Perry said, “Precisely defining the physiological and structural basis of gender differences in brain function will help to illuminate Alzheimer’s disease and understanding our partners.”
The largest functional brain imaging study to date, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, was conducted recently at the Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, CA. Researchers compared 46,034 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) imaging studies—provided by 9 different clinics. The scientists examined the tomography results and then measured the differences between the brains of women and men.
Study participants included 119 healthy volunteers, as well as over 26,000 individuals with various psychiatric disorders including: brain trauma, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and schizophrenia. Scientist analyzed 128 different areas of the brain at baseline and then again while volunteers performed concentrated tasks. The perfusion (blood flow) in specific areas of the brain was measured using SPECT, while participants performed various cognitive tasks.
Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of the Amen Clinics and lead study author stated, “This is a very important study to help understand gender-based brain differences. The quantifiable differences we identified between men and women are important for understanding gender-based risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Using functional neuroimaging tools, such as SPECT, will be essential to developing precision medicine brain treatments in the future.”
- Women’s brains were found to be much more active in several areas than the brains of men
- Women’s brains exhibited higher activity in the prefrontal cortex (an area involved in focus and impulse control).
- Other areas of women’s brains that were found to have more activity included the limbic (emotional) areas (involved in mood and anxiety).
- Men were found to have more active visual and coordination centers of the brain.
- Increased blood flow of the prefrontal cortex was noted in women (as compared to men). This was thought to account for the reason women have greater strengths in self control, empathy, intuition, collaboration and appropriate concern.
- Increased blood flow to the limbic system in women (as compared to men) may be the reason women are more prone to depression, anxiety, insomnia and eating disorders (all which could increase the risk for AD).
While these findings don’t prove that women’s brain function is the primary reason that the incidence of AD is higher in women than in men, the study points to some compelling evidence that brain physiology may be one factor involved in AD risks for women
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