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April 22nd, 2011
03:57 PM ET

TEDMED: Young brains, autism and epilepsy

If you know a teenager who seems as if he or she is a member of a different species, it's not all in your head. There are many differences in brain structure and function that distinguish teens from adults - both in good and bad ways.

Dr. Frances Jensen, neuroscientist at Children's Hospital Boston and president-elect of the American Epilepsy Society, explained at the TEDMED 2010 conference that since young people's brains are still developing, they are better at learning new skills and information. For instance, the earlier in life you start learning a language, the more of a chance you have at becoming truly fluent.

That comes at the cost of poorer impulse control and weaker decision-making skills than adults. And, addiction is a form of learning, meaning teens can more easily get hooked on drugs and alcohol. The damage from those substances can also be more significant in younger people, Jensen's research has shown.

Besides giving us a tour of the teen brain, Jensen has been active in exploring the connections between autism and epilepsy. This month Nature Medicine featured her work, which suggests that there's more overlap between autism and seizures than previously thought.

Such discoveries may help in the quest for treating autism and epilepsy, as scientists look to target common underlying causes behind both conditions rather than just individual symptoms. But there's still a long way to go: There's no universally effective treatment for seizure disorders or autism, and there's a lack of drugs that can help the cognitive problems arising from both disorders at the same time.

TEDMED is an annual event that brings together dozens of luminaries from a variety of fields to "demonstrate the intersection and connections between all things medical and health care related: from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital." TEDMED 2010 took place from October 26 to 29 in San Diego, California.


soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Lou

    It is called vitamin D. We have widespread vitamin D deficiency thanks to bad science. Latest studies show that we really need a lot more vitamin D than the current recommendation amount.

    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/health/autism/autism-information.shtml

    April 22, 2011 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Heather

      very responsible of you Lou to open the possibility for folks to OD on vitamin D...if you're concerned about your vitamin D level, please talk to a doctor or take a daily multivitamin. Taking too much can cause toxicity

      April 22, 2011 at 22:38 | Report abuse |
    • Christine Cabral-Viola

      Actually Lou and Heather, you are both right. There are many people who are deficient in Vitamin D, as our bodies do not manufacture it and either they do not go outside much (couch potatoes and web surfers) or don't eat a balanced diet or both. They could possibly benefit from supplements. However, before popping supplements, you should speak with your doctor and have a blood level drawn to determine if this is a problem. Personally, I try to spend some time outside each day in my garden or just sitting, about 20 or 30 minutes). I have a daughter with Asperger' syndrome and her doctor specifically tested for vitamin D deficiency and was found to be deficient. Vitamin D helps with nervous system functioning so it may have something to do with her Autism. Good call to both of you!

      April 23, 2011 at 05:48 | Report abuse |
    • RP

      I really hate how they try to tie epilepsy to psychiatric disorders and autism and poor cognitive functions. This is bull. They make epileptics feel much more like a freak and even harder for what they are going through. Seizures happen for any reason, infection, drugs, alcohol, foods, vitamin deficiencies, lets do more research into that. This lady needs to recognize that there are many people who develop seizures as an adult, who have no history or family history of seizures or any neurological conditions. Their tests come out negative, which makes it even more complicated and frusterating. The number of ppl with this type of development of seizures need more research as well. Why, is it the way we eat, live our lives, there has got to be more with the environment we are surrounded by. Oh and to all the people out there, stop making jokes about seizures, its not funny. Try having the condition and see how it feels to have your whole life taken out of your hands in just two minutes.

      April 24, 2011 at 01:18 | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      Heather. it is very hard to OD on vitamin D because the recommendation is set extremely low due to bad science.

      http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/vitaminDToxicity.shtml

      http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/sardi-statement-fnb-vitamin-d-report.shtml

      The truth is that vitamin D deficiency is much more common and you're worried about toxicity? That is VERY RARE.

      April 24, 2011 at 18:00 | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      Christine, whenever autistic kids are tested for vitamin D level, they tend to have very low level. That is like that with their mothers too. It likely started in the womb and mothers probably did not have enough vitamin D to provide for proper brain development and vaccines could have aggravated autism symptoms. That is probably a link between vaccines and autism but not a true cause. They just haven't looked at that possibility due to underlying cause like vitamin D deficiency. To see any improvement, autistic kids need aggressive vitamin D treatment to push their vitamin D level to the upper range of level around 100 ng/ml. According to case reports in the link I provided in the first message, Dr. Cannell recommends at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per every 25 pounds of body weight per day, with frequent monitoring of 25(OH)D, targeting 100 ng/mL (250 nmol/L). Keep an eye on Dr. Cannell's work on vitamin D for the next couple years. You may want to subscribe to his newsletters (only 50 dollars and you will end up saving a lot of money in the long run because you'd rarely ever get sick and save a lot of money on medication, etc). Sounds high? Not really when you consider that toxicity happens at 200 ng/ml which requires enormous amount of vitamin D.

      Vitamin D supplement is required during school year esp winter anyway. Best time to see the sun is between 10 am and 2 pm when UVB sunlight is at its peak to maximize vitamin D production but sadly, air pollution can block UVB so that's something to keep in mind when living in large city.

      Another article that I thought was good reading because my daughter had neonatal jaundice and had to get light therapy in 2005 before I even knew about vitamin D's effect on body beyond bone health.

      April 24, 2011 at 18:16 | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/Autism/22663

      April 24, 2011 at 18:23 | Report abuse |
    • Kath

      RP – autism is NOT a psychiatric disorder, it is a neurological disorder....same as epilepsy. People with autism have feelings, too.

      April 24, 2011 at 21:37 | Report abuse |
  2. Jeremy Higdon

    I learned about the critical period in Psychology class have been preaching what I learned to my teenage brothers. Presentations like this one make me want to change my major! This information about Autism and Epilepsy is remarkable because to my knowledge epilepsy is treated with Benzodiazepines (mimics GABA in the CNS). Should epilepsy be treated with glutamate related drugs instead?

    April 22, 2011 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Christine Cabral-Viola

      Actually Jeremy, epilepsy is treated by a number of medications, only some of which are benzodiazepines (valium and ativan). There is an entire class of medications called neuroleptics that are used which include medications such as Tegretol and Depakote which interestingly are 2 drugs that are also used to treat Bipolar disorder. There are no drugs that specifically treat Autism, but we can treat a number of specific symptoms such as racing thoughts, depresssion, violent outbursts...etc with psychiatric medications. I have a child with Asperger's Syndrome, who takes Abilify, an antipsychotic medication, to help with thought processes. It is one of the drugs of choice to prescribe to treat Asperger's. The brain is a strange and complicated organ. They have yet to scratch the surface in terms of how it functions.

      April 23, 2011 at 05:37 | Report abuse |
  3. truthinrock

    So teenage brains are different than adult brains, who would have thought.....

    April 22, 2011 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mary Tormey

    They give Autistic children drugs that cause epilepsy, of course they are more likely to get epilepsy.

    April 23, 2011 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kath

      Now what drugs would that be? There are no drugs for autism.

      April 24, 2011 at 21:38 | Report abuse |
  5. OvernOut

    I'm all for anything that leads to more research and awareness for epilepsy, but let's not tie everything to autism. Here's another article I have to hide from my teen with epilepsy. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts has seizures, anyone want to accuse him of having autism, too?

    April 23, 2011 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joeymom

      I have an autistic child who doesn't have seizures. Perhaps I should hide this article from him, too?

      April 24, 2011 at 02:32 | Report abuse |
    • Kath

      Same here – my seizure-free autistic child would be HORRIFIED to be tied to the epileptic! Get a life.

      April 24, 2011 at 21:39 | Report abuse |
    • Laurel

      No one is calling your children freaks, whether they have autism or epilepsy or not. My son happens to have both autism and epilepsy, and treating the seizures has helped him to make many gains that we were not able to get until the seizures were diagnosed and treated. He is no more a freak than any of your kids, and I think it is important that this research continue for those people who do suffer from multiple diagnoses.

      April 29, 2011 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
  6. Psych Professor

    This article was about worthless. I guess CNN is grasping for straws since they don"t want to put forth real news

    April 24, 2011 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. dee

    Very fascinating. People who have explosive behaviors and then become remorseful and explain that when it's all over they had no control in the moment. That is sort of like a seizure... and aspergers, bipolar, adhd, tourettes can all experience these symptoms. So I do believe there is a connection somewhere in the brain where these emotions and impulse control reside. I hope they crack the code and solve this riddle to continue to help the quality of lives of so many people!

    April 24, 2011 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kansasmom

      I totally agree. I have an autistic son with epilepsy and this describes himi perfectly.

      April 24, 2011 at 14:31 | Report abuse |
  8. MrsMC

    Cure autism, epilepsy, and adolescence– KILL the defective people. This is what we used to do– we killed "devil-touched" children or kept them locked up in sheds behind the house. Before you think this is cruel– I am an autistic adult; I wish I had been mercifully "put down" early in life. Adolescents were so terrified of meeting this fate that they made their decisions on the basis of what their more-developed parents thought they ought to do. BRING BACK TRADITIONAL VALUES!!

    April 24, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. paul joseph

    i have the best body on here

    April 24, 2011 at 17:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Galina L.

    I advice everyone who if interested in mental health, Autism to visit blog Evolutionary Psychiatry. Most recent posts are about Autism http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/. Much more interesting and ful of information than CNN article.

    April 24, 2011 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. tiffany

    I was told by a doctor that being overweight causes vitamin D problems

    April 25, 2011 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. cheryl

    I am not making anyone bad if they have seizures, or autism, or both, but what if there are nutritional deficiencies that could lead to both the autism symptoms and the seizures? Maybe both can be cured or reduced if it is found that they are linked. For example, the Gaba does reduce seizure frequency and can reduce a high stress response in people with autism. It is good to question to do research and find out what can be done so people who have either of these conditions can get help for them. I have Aspergers Syndrome, but I don't get seizures. I do get migraine headaches where I get one sided paralysis and knowing about common deficiencies in both Aspergers Syndrome and Migraine headaches does help me, I also think that maybe Dr. Cannel can be partially right in that vitamin D deficiency can make one susuptible to Autism due to the fact that vitamin D deficiency interferes with Gluthatione production. A lack of Gluthathione would make vaccines for kids problematic. Gluthathione removes heavy metals and is imperative to immune system function. The immune system would be needed to handle the viruses in vaccines and the ability to remove metals would have been needed for the body to empty out the aluminum and thimersol in the vaccines. It is always good to be willing to hear a new theory and information about mental and physical health because they could be intertwined and nutrient deficiencies or excesses can cause both.

    May 18, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Autism xbox

    Autism, an elaborate, not really well-understood, debilitation which afflicts one in every 150 children, in fact it is additionally seen in guys, than in girls. Youngsters, whom ...autism

    February 1, 2012 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.