Brain Shrinkage More Rapid in
Men Than in Women

by Marilynn Larkin
Copyright 1998 The Lancet
The Lancet 1998;351:575 (February 21, 1998)

Men's brains shrink more rapidly with age than do women's, particularly in the frontal and temporal lobe regions, says C Edward Coffey of the Henry Ford Health System (Detroit, MI, USA). "We know that men tend to be more prone to age-related memory loss than women, so the focality of the brain shrinkage makes a nice connection with what we know clinically."

Coffey and co-workers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain size in 330 healthy adults aged 66-96 years. With increasing age, men had a 30% increase in peripheral cerebrospinal fluid--an indicator of brain shrinkage-- whereas women had only a 1% increase. Fluid accumulation was noticeable around the lateral fissure, which abuts the frontal and temporal lobes, where an 80% increase was seen in men and a 40% increase in women. Also, the parietal-occipital region was smaller in men than in women, but the shrinkage in other regions of the brain was similar in the two sexes (Arch Neurol 1998; 55: 169-79).

This accelerated brain shrinkage might correlate with behavioural and cognitive changes. But how might such shrinking be prevented? There are "some tantalising possibilities", says Coffey. Women who take oestrogen therapy seem to be at lower risk for Alzheimer's disease, he notes, so this therapy could be tested for protection against brain shrinkage. Drinking alcohol in moderation only may help, since excessive intake accelerates age-related brain shrinkage. Coffey also suggests avoidance of cardiovascular risk factors, since "uncontrolled hypertension will cause your brain to look older than it should".

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