Local doctor researches ‘moody’ teens | AspenTimes.com

Local doctor researches ‘moody’ teens

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A study on the brain chemistry of “moody” teenagers? Some might say that Dr. Phyllis Bronson, a founding partner of the Aspen Clinic for Preventive and Environmental Medicine, has her work cut out for her.

After all, what parent hasn’t been occasionally stumped by the erratic behavior of a brooding teen?

But Bronson’s most recent research, a study she’s titled “Moody, Sullen Girls and Angry, Hostile Boys,” is starting to attract academic attention. And the research, once the four-year study is completed, could provide some insight into a “moody” teenager’s developing brain.

Bronson’s body of research, done locally as well as in connection with the University of Denver, focuses mainly on what she calls the “brain-body connection” ? the chemical link between hormones and emotional well-being. Bronson recently wrapped up a four-year study focusing on the specifics of a woman’s mood biochemistry, targeting hormones and their effect on women’s brains. Lectures culled from this research, done in conjunction with local physician Dr. Kenton Bruice, resulted in two standing-room-only crowds at the Given Institute this summer.

Bronson took part in another lecture two weeks ago to present her latest findings on the “Sullen Girls/Hostile Boys” study. As a faculty member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Bronson was offered a keynote speech at the annual AAEM conference to present research from the recently completed first year of the planned four-year study on teen brain chemistry.

“I work with kids in the middle of the bell curve ? the average kids who just aren’t thriving,” Bronson said.

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Most studies of this sort focus on teenagers that are often labeled as dangerous, to themselves and others. However, Bronson’s study has attracted attention to a forgotten category of kids ? those who seem to be getting by, but could be doing better.

“If one looks at a bell curve of teenagers today in the U.S., a very small percentage of them are really thriving,” Bronson wrote in her preliminary report of the study. “Based on our observations, we estimate that less than 20 percent of kids today are doing really well [both at home and at school].”

Locally, Bronson’s research attracts interest due to the involvement of Roaring Fork Valley teenagers. Two-thirds of the students Bronson met with for the study are from the valley, she reports, while the rest come from as far away as Boston.

The teenagers are often referred by psychologists, Bronson said, but are also recommended by parents looking for help with mood swings beyond psychotropic drugs.

“A lot of parents who come to us are determined to keep their kids off medication,” she said.

Bronson said she is appalled by what she sees as an “alarming use of cosmetic pharmacology” to help teenagers with mood swings. Her study instead looks at the “biochemical basis of mood disorders” and turns to nutritional supplements to give kids a needed boost in their brain chemistry.

Bronson frequently tests the effectiveness of amino acids and fatty acids in the development of a child’s brain, and prefers to alter diets and nutritional supplements rather than drug regimens.

Steering clear of psychotropic drugs has helped Bronson’s research gain national attention ? AAEM conference attendees expressed interest in helping her study through three additional years necessary to present promising results.

Her study has also gained attention from families and psychologists requesting to be involved.

“We have kids coming from all over the country now,” Bronson said.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]