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Hormones Are Key in Brain Health Differences Between Men and Women

Sex hormones play a crucial role in brain health, especially when it comes to the sex-based risk factors associated with dementia.

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Source: AHA

Medical science has come a long way since the days of “bikini medicine,” when the only time doctors managed a woman’s health differently than a man’s was when treating the parts of her body found under a bikini.

Over the past few decades, researchers have uncovered countless ways in which women’s and men’s bodies react differently to the same diseases. And just as it’s now widely recognized women experience heart disease differently than men, scientists are beginning to understand why the sexes experience illness differently in another vital organ—the brain.

It’s not that male and female brains are built differently, said Lisa Mosconi, director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. It’s that they age differently.

Women bear the brunt of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, accounting for two of every three people diagnosed. Women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression. They are three times more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune disorders that attack the brain, such as multiple sclerosis. They are four times more likely to have migraines and also are more likely to die from strokes.

What’s driving these disparities? While multiple factors are at play, Mosconi said, it’s hormones—testosterone in men and estrogen in women—that are the orchestral conductors of the brain. They are responsible for whether it performs well, or not.

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