What to look for in a Omega 3 Supplement

What to look for in an Omega 3 Supplement

fish oil supplement

Fish oil is a rich source of EPA and DHA which are needed for our health for many reasons that will be listed in this article.  These needed nutrients are found in the fatty tissue of cold water, oily fish. These are essential fatty acids and the body cannot make them thus we need to get them from food or supplement (1)

It has only been in the past 15 years that the actions of EPA and DHA have come to be understood. (3)   Until now there is still more research on DHA than there is on EPA (2). Because of research we have a better understanding of how these fatty acids work in isolation and in combination. 

This article will discuss the benefits of both EPA and DHA and ways to get them in your diet including vegan sources. 

Do You Need More Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids in Your Diet?

Most Americans are deficient in omega 3’s and instead consume an abundance of omega 6’s. While we need some omega 6’s in our diet, the current ratio contributes to inflammation and chronic disease. Add to that they most Americans are consuming their omega 6’s from processed, rancid oils instead of oils such as evening primrose. 


Signs you May Be Deficient in Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

  • Growth retardation
  • Behavioral changes
  • ADD
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Poor vision
  • Poor learning ability
  • Excessive blood coagulation
  • Edema
  • Weakness
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Tingling in the arms and legs
  • Low metabolic rate

Why You Need Both EPA and DHA

mom with baby

  • EPA

o   Products that contain more EPA than DHA have been shown to be beneficial for depression. Supplements that had a lower ratio or EPA to DHA were judged to be ineffective.  Studies that showed promise had used 1 gram of EPA daily. (2)

o   EPA may also be helpful for heart disease and may aid to lower triglyceride levels due to its anti-inflammatory effects. (2)

o   Children with development problems may benefit from a product containing only high amounts of pure EPA (3)

o   After the age of 5 the development of the brain and the central nervous system starts to reduce the body’s need for DHA and the need for EPA increases (3).

o   EPA has been shown to help children with academic performance, focus, attention and reducing aggression.  (3)

o   Dry skin, allergies and eczema can also benefit from EPA use as it will help to reduce inflammation.

o   EPA has been shown to reduce cognitive decline and dementia

o   Aids in joint health (4)

o   Regulates insulin levels (4)

o   In one study, those with increased anxiety were given 2 grams of EPA daily and there was a statistically significant reduction in anxiety compared to those in the placebo group.  (11)

o   Increased EPA may help you to handle stress and may improve mood in the general population.  (11)


  • DHA

o   DHA is needed for healthy brain development and for the aging brain.  Low levels of DHA have been associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease (6)

o   Children require DHA for growth and development

o   Once dementia has set in and there is brain damage, at this point DHA becomes important again.  Look for a product that contains 250 mg. of DHA. (3)

o   A 12- week study of DHA supplementation was found to improve blood flow to the brains of healthy young adults during cognitive tasks.  (6)

o   For women, low DHA is thought to be responsible in many cases of postpartum depression. (6)


  • EPA and DHA

o   Both are needed for pregnant women to ensure optimal brain and nervous system development of the fetus (1)

o   The average adult should look for a fish oil supplement containing 700-1,000 mg. of EPA and 200-500 mg. of DHA (1)

o   ADHD: children may benefit from one gram total

o   These long chain omega 3 fatty acids can affect metabolism of mood related neurotransmitters such as your serotonin and your dopamine.  Since both EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory effects both can contribute to reducing depressive symptoms (6)

o   Both EPA and DHA have been shown to improve symptoms of Bipolar. (9) One study showed that omega 3 supplementations reduced mania and depression in youths with bipolar.  The dose in the study was 360 mg. EPA and 1560 DHA for 6 weeks. (10)

  • Bottom Line: for your health, you need to opt for a product that contains both EPA and DHA or eat fatty fish.

Food Sources

abstract-1238248_1280 (1)

If you want to avoid consuming fish oil, consume 3 ounces of fatty fish 3 times per week for general health.  Check your sources when buying fish as fish can be very contaminated.  A good place to look is www.seafoodwatch.org (for you sushi lovers, they also have a great list of which sushi options are the best and which to avoid)

 If I know I am going to eat, say salmon for dinner that night, I will skip taking my fish oil on that day. 

  • Wild caught Alaskan Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines (I like Wild Planet Brand)
  • Herring
  • Black Cod
  • Omega-3 enriched eggs
  • Anchovies
  • Cod liver oil

What If I have a Seafood Allergy?

If you have an allergy to shellfish, you may be able to still consume fish oil.  Fish allergies are typically a reaction to the proteins and thus a purified true fish oil should still be safe. (7)  But if you have a serious allergic reaction to fish such as anaphylactic shock, I would avoid fish oil to be safe and use non-fish sources instead. 

Plant sources

flax seeds

If you are a vegan or vegetarian (or have a fish allergy) and do not eat fish or take a fish oil supplement, you can take an algae supplement for your DHA.  But you will still need a source for your EPA. (4) 

You can get ALA from plant sources such as flax seeds and flax seed oil, walnuts, hemp, purslane and chia seeds but the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA is small.  The conversion of ALA to EPA is anywhere from 3% to 20%. The proportion of ALA converted to DHA is small. (5) 

A study measuring blood EPA and DHA in a vegan population showed that 64 % had insufficient amounts and some were severely deficient.  This population’s intake of ALA was above the recommended intake as well.  (6)

We need an enzyme called Delta 6 Desaturase to make the conversion from ALA to EPA and DHA.  This conversion process can be blocked by alcohol, caffeine, high refined carb diet, trans fats and poor quality oils such as canola and vegetable oil, meds and street drugs, deficiencies of B6, B3, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc; toxins and certain conditions such as diabetes and aging.  (8)

A newer plant oil called Ahiflower oil from Buglossoides arvensis, has reportedly the highest level of non-GM omega-3 essential fatty acids.  The plant oil combines ALA with stearidonic acid.  The stearidonic acid converts EPA at a ratio of 30-35%.  This may be a good option to consider if you are a vegan or vegetarian.  (5). However, keep in mind what can block the conversion from plant oils into essential fatty acids. 


When to Use Caution

  • If you are going in for surgery stop taking fish oil supplements and tell your doctor of your supplements
  • If you have a fish allergy avoid all fish oil products to be safe
  • Fish oil supplements can affect blood clotting so if you are on a blood thinner, talk to your doctor first before supplementing.
  • If you are pregnant or breast feeding, research brands and where your fish is from to avoid contaminants.
  • Go slow when using fish oil as starting out on a high dose may cause stomach and digestive issues.  Start low and work your way up slowly
  • Always take fish oil with a meal that contains fat. It is best to take fish oil with your biggest meal of the day.  Since it is a fat soluble nutrient it needs fat in order for you to absorb and utilize it.

Bottom line

When choosing an essential fatty acid supplement, choose one that contains both EPA and DHA as you will benefit from having both.  Much of your brain is made up of DHA fats and EPA fats are found in every cell in your body. 




  1. https://ww.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/vitamins/fish-oil-and-omega-3/
  2. http://ww.nutraingredients-usa-com/Researach/EPA-stands-alone-as-a-depression-fighter
  3. https://igennus.com/nutrition/omega-3-science/epa-vs-dha/
  4. https://www.totalwellnesschoices.com/algae-vs-fish-oil-supplements/
  5. https://www.nutraingredients-usa-com/Markets/Powerful-PUFAs-The-many-health-benefits-of-omega-3s/?
  6. https://uintacountyherald.com/article/omega-3-fatty-acid-good-for-adult-elderly-brain-health
  7. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fish-allergies-omega-3/
  8. Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014) Foundations of Nutrition. CA: Bauman College   
  9. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/there-strong-evidence-omega-3-fatty-acids-have-beneficial-effect-bipolar-disorder
  10.   http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/omega-3-polyunsaturated-fatty-acid-supplementation-associated-reduced-mania
  11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-zone/201201/anxiety-and-omega-3-fatty-acids


If you are sick and tired of feeling sick, tired, fatigued, depressed, anxious and more and have given up hope then Karen’s simple, effective, individualized and sustainable approach may be what you need. 

Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition and Herbalist is the author of Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC. 

For more information visit  www.trufoodsnutrition.com

Get her Food Swap Guide here to get started on your health journey today! Want more information, like her fb page here

As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.

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Three things to take when the flu strikes

Top three things you should take if you get the flu this year

person sneezing

In the September 16, 2016 Parade Magazine there was an article on “Boost your Flu IQ”.  While the article had some good points such as reduce the amount of times you touch your face and to thoroughly dry your hands after washing, it was the number one thing they stated “You should do to prevent the flu” that as a nutrition professional I beg to differ with. 

Dr. Grohskopf, a medical officer in the Influenza Division of the CDC said “getting the flu shot is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself against the flu and prevent its spread”  She went on to say that if you do get the flu, your symptoms “could be” less severe. 

Hmm.  I was recently asked to go back to work on a very part time basis at the nursing home where I used to work.  The reason I am unable to return is because I opt out of the flu vaccine.  In all my years working in long term care I have never gotten the flu. 

From my perspective, there are many things you can do if you get the flu but what you should be doing is supporting your immune system year round so that you don’t get the flu!  Why do doctors not discuss this with their patients?

In the Parade Magazine article there was no mention of healthy eating and supporting your immune system (nor your gut health, and those of you who read my posts know by now that over 80% of your immune system is in the gut).

So here is what I, as a nutrition professional, recommend for flu prevention.  Please remember however that this is for educational purposes only since you are not a current client and as always seek medical attention when necessary. 

Four tips for Year Round Immune Support to avoid getting the Flu


  • Probiotics: either take a probiotic supplement daily or eat fermented foods. It is best to rotate, so say eat fermented vegetables one day, kefir the next and probiotic supplement the next day.  This way you get a variety of strains for immune health.  The more variety in your strains the better.  Either purchase your probiotic from the refrigerated section of the store or one that says it is freeze dried.  Look at the label on the back to see how many strains it contains. Ideally you want to see a long list, not just a couple of strains listed. 


 Study #1

  • 18 month study on children from ages 3-5 showed that those taking probiotic lactobacillus acidophilus strain had 53% fewer fevers, 41% fewer coughs, and 28% fewer runny noses than placebo group
  • Another group of children given the acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis strain has 72% fewer fevers, 62% fewer coughs, and 59% fewer runny noses than placebo group


Study #2

  • In 198 college students: 97 received a placebo, 101 received bifidum and lactobacillus strains for 12 weeks.-all got colds at same time but the probiotic group experienced a shorter duration in colds, symptoms were 34% less severe, fewer missed school days

Take away-take probiotics or eat fermented foods on a regular basis. You can look for products that contain the strains mentioned but more importantly consume a wide variety of probiotic rich foods. 


  • Replace the refined carbs, sugar, and excess alcohol with less processed foods, more vegetables and fruit and filtered water. The sugar and alcohol lowers your white blood cell count which in turn lowers your immune resistance.  Sugar and grains upset the balance of the gut flora which in turn will weaken your immune resistance to germs.  Alcohol will also deplete your body of nutrients such as your B vitamins and magnesium. 


  • Try to get more sleep. If you have difficulty sleeping get evaluated for possible liver or blood sugar issues. Try calming herbs such as passion flower, valerian (only at bed time), Kava Kava, chamomile and lavender. There are many “sleepy time” herbal tea blends or try one herb at a time in tincture form. 


  • De-stress. Add in what works for you, such as an infrared sauna, yoga, meditation, walks, journaling and/or exercise.  Add in the herbs mentioned above to help calm and relax the body during times of high stress.  Stress of any kind (including exercise and “good” stress such as getting married) depletes the body of vitamins and minerals especially zinc, vitamin C, and your B vitamins


Top 3 things to add in if you do get the flu

Sometimes even with best intentions and doing everything right, we still get sick.  I think of it as the body’s way of telling us at times that we need a break, and forces us to rest and recover.  We live in a society that rewards that “go, go, go attitude”.  We can’t do this non-stop. 


But that being said, you don’t want to feel miserable for weeks, which for some the flu can leave you still at the 2 week mark feeling exhausted and drained. 


Add these in:



  • Master Tonic: this is my “go-to” when the flu or a cold strikes. I take a small bottle with me when a I travel and also send bottles of it to my adult son’s.  Ideally you want to make this a month before cold/flu season.  I typically make it at the end of the summer and then let it sit and ferment for 4 weeks.  You can do a search online for the recipe and they all vary a little but the principle ingredients are the same (garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, hot peppers, horseradish and apple cider vinegar).  We have had great results with it and I get calls from people in a panic saying they “need some right away”.   So do yourself a favor and make some to have on hand.  It is good for 2 years but I usually have to make a new batch every year. Take it as soon as you feel run down.  Only take during the course of the cold or flu.  The herbs in this product can be very drying to the body so while they are ant-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral in nature and great for excess mucus too, you don’t want to dry out your system too much. 
  • Vitamin C: Along with the Master Tonic, if I am feeling run down I will take 1,000 mg. of vitamin C as often as I remember.  Some will take it every 15 minutes on that first day.  I usually end up taking a dose every couple of hours.  With this protocol typically in less than 24 hours, sometimes only a few hours later, I am feeling much better.  Look for vitamin C with bioflavonoids.  Take up to bowel tolerance, meaning for some people you may not be able to take this high of a dose as it may cause diarrhea.  Just take the amount your body can handle at that time and instead add in citrus foods to your diet as well as plenty of other fruits and vegetables.  Kiwi is exceptionally high in vitamin C along with red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Homeopathic Oscillococcinum: This homeopathic remedy can take effect quickly when used at first sign of symptoms. While many are skeptical of homeopathic products, this has been shown in clinical trials to help reduce the severity and shorten the duration of flu-like symptoms. Take this remedy as soon as you feel yourself getting run down.  With homeopathic pellets, do not touch the pellets and allow them to dissolve in your mouth and do not drink any water or use any lozenges or food for 15 minutes before and after the dose. 

Additional Support

Bone Broth: This is another one I make in advance.  I let my organic chicken bone broth cook for 24 to 48 hours so I don’t want to be making this when I am already sick.  I make a batch in late summer and keep it in the freezer. This way if I or someone else is sick I can just heat up the amount needed and sip through the day.  If you are sick and don’t want to eat, this is a great way to get your protein, some of your electrolytes and nutrients in while supporting your gut health at the same time.  For how to make and easy recipes I suggest reading Nourishing Broth by Fallon Morell and Daniel. 


Bottom Line

Fluctuation in temperature is not the reason why we get sick.  We get sick more often in colder, winter months because we are in more confined spaces in colder months, we eat more sugar (comfort foods) in colder months, our stress levels increase around the holidays, we tend to drink more alcohol and less water in the winter and skip workouts more often in colder weather.  This adds up to the perfect storm for getting run down and susceptible to germs. Take care of gut and immune system year round to avoid getting sick this season. 


Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2104) Therapeutic Nutrition.  CA: Bauman College

Fallon Morell, S. & Daniel K. (2014) Nourishing Broth.  NY: Grand Central Life & Style.

Mercola, J. (12/1/2014) 5 of the healthiest and most affordable Foods available. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/ articles/archives/2014/12/01/5-healthiest-affordable-foods.aspx

Papp, R. et. al. Oscillococcinum in patients with influenza-like syndrome: A placebo-controlled,          double-blind   evaluation. Br. Homeopath J. 1998,87;69-76.

UMDNJ. (10/22/12) Probiotics are secret weapon for fighting symptoms of the common cold in college students, study suggests.  www.sciencedaily.com

Winters, C. (9/18/16) Stay Healthy: Boost your Flu IQ.  Parade Magazine www.parade.com/flu


Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (candidate), author of the E book Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC believes in food first when addressing the root causes to your health conditions.  For more information and for her free food swap guide visit her website at www.trufoodsnutrition.com

As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.

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21 Reasons to avoid Energy drinks

21 Reasons to Avoid Energy drinks


Many young adults (18-35 y/o range) can be seen walking around holding a can of pure caffeine and sugar.  More often than not these cans contain more than one serving and who really drinks only half a can?  What is this doing to your health and could it have long term consequences?

Read on to find out!

Here is why I think energy drinks are a bad idea. 

You want to work out but are tired and need some motivation and energy so you take an energy drink


  • This can be deadly, especially if you are under a great deal of stress or have high blood pressure.
  • The number of hospital visits related to energy drinks has doubled from 2007-2011. 
  • It can make your heart race, cause palpitations, and increase you blood pressure and even lead to seizures and heart attacks. 
  • You don’t need that much sugar before you work- out.  An energy drink serving can have up to 10 teaspoons of sugar (40 grams).  Opt for a natural source of sugar and energy instead-have a banana or handful or grapes.

Instead of coffee just drink an energy drink or energy shot, right?

Wrong!  One leading brand of energy drink shots tops out at 570 mg. of caffeine.  This is way too much caffeine for your body to handle, especially in one large gulp! 

This much caffeine can lead to severe adrenal depletion.  This sets you up for a vicious cycle of that leads to more fatigue which means you need more and more caffeine to get through the day. If you are this low on energy and need this much caffeine it is time to look at root causes instead of managing your symptoms. 

The amount of caffeine in common energy drinks is 5 times the amount in a cup of coffee and 10 times the amount in a serving of soda. 

However, if you do want to start reducing your caffeine intake, don’t go cold turkey.  You will end up with terrible withdrawal effects from your daily habit.  Instead wean off slowly such as pouring a little bit out of each can you drink and every few days pouring out a little more.  If you go cold turkey you will end up with terrible headaches and brain fog for several days. 

If you need this much caffeine, ask yourself why?  Usually if you are using caffeine as a crutch there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.  While a picture on one website for energy drinks would have you thinking it is normal for everyone to have a 3o’clock slump and need a pick me up, this is  not normal to need caffeine to get through each and every day. 

But the label says it has all these herbs and vitamins and amino acids in it so it must be healthy for me!

Sorry there is no nutritional value in a sugary, caffeinated beverage. Don’t be fooled by the marketing! Energy drinks are actually labeled as dietary supplements but they are anything but that.  It is estimated that sales of Energy drinks in the US have brought them a market worth 12.5 billion and sales of these harmful drinks continues to grow. 

There have been cases of teenagers dying from the effects of too much consumption and it caused them to go into cardiac arrest.  So ask yourself, it is worth it?

  Yes, I know it mentions all these herbs it contains.  Most likely the herbs are in very small quantities and not in the right forms to provide you with any benefit. If you are looking for the benefits of the herbs then work with a nutrition/herb professional who can provide you with the best herbs for you and in the right forms. Herbs can also interact with medications so always work with a professional when ingesting herbs. 

The same applies to the vitamin and amino acids. The odds are they are using very poor quality forms which are difficult for the body to absorb.  And if you are only absorbing a very small amount then the odds are the benefits from them are doing you no good. Get your supplements from natural food sources instead. 

Can I substitute my morning smoothie with an energy drink?


You can if you want to stay on the viscous cycle of being wired and tired all the time and continue to destroy your health over time. 

If your usual smoothie is loaded with fruit then it may be better than an energy drink but still not a great choice. Don’t start your day with sugar.  Instead make a protein veggie smoothie.  For instance, water, protein powder, ¼ of an avocado, ¼ of a frozen banana, large handfuls of dark leafy greens, tablespoon of hemp seeds and/or nut butter.  You want energy-give your body what it really needs. It does not need caffeine and sugar.  If you think it does, then your body is trying to tell you something! Listen to it. 

Pros and cons of drinking energy drinks

Pros: None I can think of. I wish they didn’t even exist. 


  1. Dangerous when combined with alcohol or stimulants such as ADHD meds (Adderall, Ritalin)
  2. There is little scientific evidence that their “proprietary formulas” give someone a physical and/or mental edge.
  3. Anxiety
  4. Headaches
  5. Heart attacks, strokes
  6. 8-11% of those who are caffeine dependent show signs of depression
  7. Seizures
  8. High blood pressure
  9. Diabetes
  10. No nutritional value-empty calories, takes place of nutrient dense foods
  11. Irritability
  12. The caffeine inhibits the activity of folate, B6 and B12
  13. It can cause death
  14. Nausea, diarrhea
  15. The acids in the drinks can lead to tooth destruction, damage enamel, cause stomach damage, osteoporosis and bone fractures
  16. If it contains artificial sugar: this can lead to overconsumption as your brain is waiting for the calories to come along with the sweet taste and leads you to crave more sugar. 
  17. Premature aging
  18. Disrupts your gut flora (this alone is a major concern for mental, physical and immune health!)
  19. leads to low serotonin levels  (mood issues, depression)
  20. Dehydration
  21. Reduces cortisol levels (which can cause weakness, fatigue, anxiety, heart palpitations, depression, unable to cope with stress)

So as you can see, that energy drink to help you get through the day is not helping you but rather hurting you.  Zero pros to drinking them, 21 cons to drinking them; the choice is yours. 



Andrews, R. (nd) All about energy drinks.  http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-energy-drinks.

Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014) Foundations in Nutrition.  CA: Bauman College

Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014) Therapeutic Nutrition.  CA: Bauman College

Greenfield, B. (7/09) I don’t approve of Energy drinks.  https://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2009/07/i-dont-approve-of-energy-drinks-and-a-bonus-video/

Meier, B. (1/12/13) More Emergency Room visits linked to Energy Drinks.  http;//www.nytimes.com/2013/01/12/business/more-emergency-room-visits-linked-to-energy-drinks-report-says.html.  

Stone, I. (3/17/14) Link between emergency room visits and energy drinks.  http://www.topmastersinhealthcare.com/link-between-emergency-room-visits-and-energy-drinks/

Gaille, B. (nd) Energy Drink Industry Statistics and Trends.  http://brandongaille.com/26-energy-drink-statistics-and-trends/


Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (candidate), author of the E book Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC believes in food first when addressing the root causes to your health conditions.  For more information, visit her website at www.trufoodsnutrition.com

As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.

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Three supplements to give right away for a concussion

Three supplements to give right away if your child sustains a head injury

kids football end of game
Both of my sons have played competitive and contact sports for many years. They also have sustained more head injuries  and concussions than I would like.

Over the course of time and as a nutritionist I learned that there is more you can do than just rest and avoid TV and video games (although those steps are very important too!).

My son was recently in a roll over car accident and thankfully all three in the vehicle were wearing seat belts. He said that if they weren’t they most likely would have been ejected.

But it got me thinking of what I would do right away if he did sustain a head injury.

I am currently putting together an herbal/nutritional first aid kit for both of my sons (yes, they are thrilled…sarcasm) and it will include the ingredients I have listed here in their first aid kits.

With kids back in school it also means kids are back into their sport activities so I hope you find this helpful should the need arise. It may be a good idea to keep these items on hand.

This is by no means meant to replace medical care after a head trauma but rather in addition to. Always discuss these options with your doctor, especially if on medications.

But here are some supplements that can provide the tools to allow the brain to begin to heal. These are not “cures” but rather they are used to optimize brain health for healing.

Here is a good starting place if your child sustains a concussion, even a mild one.

Homeopathic Arnica Montana: While traditional medicine is very skeptical in regards to homeopathic remedies, this is one that I keep in my son’s sport bags and is the first thing I reach for when a head injury occurs. There are other homeopathic remedies for head injury side effects but this should be in your first aid kit to reduce swelling and inflammation due to the trauma. Use it as soon as you can but it can also be used for head injuries that have occurred even months prior.

When using homeopathic remedies, it is best to consult with a specialist who is trained to work with them.
Otherwise, to keep on hand for these emergencies, I purchase Boiron brand Arnica Montana 200 ck. You can usually find this at Whole Foods or your local health food store. Dose out 5 pellets every 15 minutes if you can but neither water nor food should not be consumed 15 minutes prior nor 15 minutes after so you may have to dose out more than every 15 minutes in those first few hours. Ideally just get as many doses in as you can. Do not touch the pellets-just pour them from the vial cap into your mouth. Let them dissolve under the tongue. After the first 24 hours you can start to space the doses out and give the pellets 3 to 5 times daily for the first week.
While others continue to be skeptical, I have seen great results with homeopathic remedies so I do use them in certain instances.

Curcumin (from Turmeric): This compound has been shown to have neuro-protective properties and has been shown to be beneficial in rehabilitation from brain injuries. Giving Curcumin can result in a significant reduction in neuro-inflammation.

For a brand I like Terry Naturally Curamed 750 mg. capsules and I would give one to two three times per day for the first several days following the trauma. There are other reputable brands out there but I have seen positive results with this product in my clients and so I stick with what has been effective.

High dose fish oil: Studies show that animal’s receiving fish oil after a head injury for 30 days had a greater than 98% reduction in brain damage compared with the animals that did not receive supplementation.

For a head injury I would give an immediate high dose of fish oil that contains 1 gram. There are many contaminated fish oil products to be wary of. Also avoid farmed salmon and only consume wild caught Alaskan salmon for your fish oil dose or consume sardines (I like Wild Planet brand)

Start with a high dose for the first 1-2 weeks and then reduce the dose. Depending on the research the range can be from 4 grams of combined EPA/DHA to 10 grams. Take 3 grams three times per day for the first week. I know that is a lot of fish oil but this is short term only.

For the second week reduce that to 3 grams two times per day. After week two it depends on how you are feeling as to whether you should continue on the high dose or reduce the maintenance dose. Once you are feeling better, reduce the dose to 3 grams every day.

Always take your fish oil with a meal that contains fat. If you are eating a low fat diet you will have difficulty reaping the benefits from the fish oil.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian and do not use fish oil you may want to reconsider just for this instance.  Non-fish sources of omega 3’s can be difficult to convert into DHA and EPA and now is not the time to worry about conversion. 

There are many more supplements that I would suggest for a head injury but this is a good place to start within the first few hours after the impact.

In addition to that, the diet should be clean, meaning free of sugar and processed foods.  Provide plenty of healthy fats such as avocado and it’s oil, quality EVOO, raw nuts and seeds, organic protein sources and plenty of organic leafy greens, vegetables and fruits.  This is not the time for sugar, candy, soda, fast food and frozen meals.  These are inflammatory foods. Avoid any foods with toxins for now so if you can buy all organic during this time that is the best choice.  Otherwise, choose your organic foods following the clean 15/dirty dozen guide provided by www.ewg.org.  The goal is to reduce brain inflammation and provide optimum conditions for healing. 

While some are able to return back to their normal routine within weeks, others may have long lasting side effects from their concussion such as ADD symptoms, fatigue, confusion, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression and more. If you or your child needs more nutritional support during the healing process, please contact me or your holistic health professional.

Chapman, E., Weintraub, R., Milburn, M. et. al. Homeopathic Treatment of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury:
A randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 14, 6,
Dec. 1999, 521-542.

Ji, S. (10/1/14) How Whole Turmeric Heals the Damaged brain. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/how-whole-turmeric-heals-damaged-brain-1

Mercola, J. (2/9/14) Fish Oil Cited in Dramatic Healing After Severe Brain Trauma. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archives/2014/02/09/fish-oil-brain-health.aspx

Wu, A., Ying, Z., Gomez-Pinilla, F. Dietary Curcumin counteracts the outcome of traumatic brain injury on oxidative stress, synaptic plasticity and cognition. Exp. Neurol, 2006 Feb., 197(2):309-17 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16364299


Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (candidate), author of the E book Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC believes in food first when addressing the root causes to your health conditions. For more information, visit her website at www.trufoodsnutrition.com

The information provided is meant for educational purposes only. As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose.

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Easy way to get more vitamin D from your food

Easy tip for the day:

How to get more vitamin D into your diet


If you love mushrooms you are in for a treat!

Not many foods that we consume contain vitamin D.  It is found in foods such as oily fish (how many of you consume sardines on a regular basis?) and small amounts in egg yolk (pasture raised-the deep orange kind) and grass fed butter. 

On top of that we spend most of our time indoors and not exposed to the vitamin D from the sun.  And if we are outside we are usually lathered up in sunscreen.  Also, if your cholesterol levels are too low you won’t be able to reap the benefits of vitamin D from the sun. 

In an experiment using shitake mushrooms sitting outside with gills up getting full sun for 6 hours per day for 2 days found that the vitamin D content in the mushrooms soared from 100 IU/100 grams to 46,000 IU/100 grams! Yes, mushrooms have been shown to be a rare food that can contain large amounts of vitamin D.

Here is a tip:

Take your mushrooms that you just purchased from the store (any kind will suffice) and keep them in a sunny window or outside.  (Studies showed they just had to be exposed to UVA light)

When they sit in the sunlight they act like little solar panels and soak up the sun!

Here is what you do:

Let them sit in the sun for 2 days in an area that they will get roughly 6 hours of sunlight.

If you are letting them sit outside, then cover them at night to avoid moisture from dew.  

Keep the gills exposed to the sunlight.   They will retain this amount of vitamin D for at least a year (not that you are going to wait that long before you eat them!)

And then eat as you normally would!



Gregor, M. (8/1/13) Vitamin D from Mushrooms, Sun, or Supplements?  http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/08/01/vitamin-d-from-  mushrooms-sun-or-supplements/

Holick, M.F. Vitamin D deficiency.  New England Jounral of Medicine, 2007; 357(3): 266-81.

Stamets, P. (8/6/12) Place Mushrooms in Sunlight to Get Your Vitamin D.    http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/place-mushrooms-in-sunlight-to-get-your-vitamin-d.html

___(4/16) Alternative Medicine. Issue 27.


Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (candidate), author of the E book Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC believes in food first when addressing the root causes to your health conditions.  For more information, visit her website at www.trufoodsnutrition.com

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B12: Could this be causing your depression?

B12: Could this be the answer to your depression?

steak kabob

As a nutritionist I look for root causes to mental health issues. The response that “It’s a chemical imbalance” does nothing to explain why someone is depressed. Nor does sitting on the couch of a professional for years do anything to help you if your root causes to depression are internal. 

Could your depression be caused by a vitamin deficiency?

Sometimes it could be as simple as a needed nutrient that your body is lacking.  The theory of an imbalance of serotonin in the brain may sound reasonable but it has never been proven. Yet many people, single mindedly, focus on this one possible cause. 

In reality there can be many root causes to depression.  B12 is just one of many that we will explore in this article. 

Why is B12 so important?

B12 plays a central role in the regulation of your neurotransmitters like your dopamine and serotonin.  The role that B12 plays with SAMe may have something to do with depression.  SAMe is found in every cell in the body and is also involved in the breakdown and production of your brain chemicals that are involved in regulating mood.  Not having enough B12 (or enough folate) can reduce your levels of SAMe. 

B12 also plays a role in mitochondrial health.  These power houses are responsible for each cells’ energy production which also plays a role in neurotransmitter signaling in the circuits that help to regulate mood.  So no B12 means poor mitochondrial health. 

Elevated cortisol levels which can be caused by chronic stress (from lifestyle, exercise and/or diet) can impact your moods as well.   High cortisol levels (your fight or flight hormone) can cause oxidative damage to your mitochondria and in turn affect your neurotransmitter signaling.  Nutrients including B12 along with folate, Omega 3’s , vitamin C, zinc and magnesium can protect your cells from this oxidative damage. 

B12 is part of the B complex family/What to supplement with

When looking to add more B12 into your diet it may be best to add in the B complex which includes niacin, folate and B6.  All of these can play a role in mood.  The best way to get your B12 is from organic grass fed meat products. Other sources include fish, cottage cheese and grass fed yogurt. 

However stress depletes our B vitamins so I typically recommend a B complex supplement. Remember training for an event and intense exercise is also stress on the body.  Lack of sleep is too.  

If you are a vegan or vegetarian then consider a B complex and an additional B12 supplement.  In a B complex look for your B6 in the P-5P form, your B12 as methylcobalamin and your Folate as methyl-folate.   Folic acid is synthetic.  Avoid it! Purchase a supplement that has 800 mcg. of folate and 400 mcg. of B12.

While you may need B12 in your diet, a whole foods diet with variety is the best way to achieve balance with your vitamins and minerals.  However, in today’s society sadly it is difficult to get all the nutrients our bodies need from food alone. 

Our soil is depleted, much of our food is weeks old by the time it hits the store shelves and then factor in the processed food, the GMO’s, chronic low stomach acid and our style of rushed eating, and you have the perfect storm for nutrient deficiencies. 


Are your medications causing your B12 deficiency?

pills in hand

Proton Pump inhibitors and histamine 2 receptor antagonists are two classes of drugs that can cause a B12 deficiency. Ask yourself if your depression started or got worse after starting on these medications.  Other drugs that can cause a B12 deficiency include birth control pills and nitric oxide (laughing gas).

So what you may have thought as a brain imbalance may in reality be a nutrient imbalance. All our vitamins and minerals are meant to work in harmony.  This means that excess of any one nutrient can cause an imbalance with others. 

Other symptoms of a B12 deficiency (other than depression)

boy looking out train window

  • constant tiredness
  • pins and needles sensation
  • hair loss
  • numbness in hands/feet
  • palpitations
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • tremors
  • sore tongue

Causes of B12 Deficiency

basket of veggies

This article does not touch on all the reasons why you may have low B12 so here are some others you may wish to explore further.

  • Vegan or vegetarian diet
  • Low stomach acid (many have low stomach acid not high and we need stomach acid to synthesize our B12). Proton Pumps lower your stomach acid. 
  • Medications
  • High homocysteine levels (B12 is needed for homocysteine metabolism.  B12 deficiency allows for the buildup of homocysteine. High homocysteine is a factor to consider when one has depression)
  • Not getting enough folate with your B12
  • Autoimmune condition
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Eating disorder
  • Old age (as we age we lose our ability to absorb our B12, as we age we tend to have lower stomach acid levels)

Stay tuned for my next blog post on: B12 testing: Pros and cons of various tests

Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, author of Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition, Supplement and herb guide and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC believes in addressing the root causes of your health issues with nutrition, supplements and herbs.  For more information, visit her website at www.trufoodsnutrition.com





Allen, L. How common is vitamin b-12 deficiency? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2009 Feb; 89(2): 693s-6s. doi:

   10.3945/ajcn.2008.26947a. Epub 2008 Dec. 30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19116323

Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2013) Therapeutic Nutrition.  CA: Bauman College

Haas, E. & Levin, B. (2006) Staying Healthy with Nutrition. The complete guide to diet and nutritional

   Medicine.  CA: Celestial Arts.

McTaggarat, L. A Beautiful Mind.  What Doctors won’t tell you.  August 2016 issue.




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Got Stress? Anxiety? 11 Herbs that can help!

Stressed? Anxiety?
Fast, Easy and Effective Ways to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

(I have updated this twice-it started out with 8 herbs and is now up to 11 different herbs to try for anxiety)

stressed person
Before I go into detail about the herbs that can help you to manage your stress and anxiety, I do want to point out that diet and lifestyle still need to be addressed.

For years I suffered from anxiety. (Back then it was just called “being very shy”). Thankfully back then doctors weren’t as quick to diagnose and medicate every mental health issue.

But what helped me, (and may help you) is balancing my blood sugar. Back then in my elementary school years, before school, I ate 2 chocolate pop tarts, only a few bites of my lunch usually and then a pretty healthy dinner. By the time I got to high school and college I stopped eating the pop tarts but can’t say my diet was much better.

It wasn’t until I started to eat balanced meals, whole foods and reduce the processed junk that my anxiety diminished. I can’t say I don’t have some situational anxiety from time to time but nothing like what I grew up with!

Use the herbs but while they are helping start making small changes to your diet too! If you need more dietary help for your stress and anxiety just give me a call!

Lifestyle Tips for Reducing Stress and Anxiety

basket of veggies
• Keep blood sugar balanced
• Start the day with a meal high in fat, with moderate protein and low amounts of whole food carbs. (i.e.: eggs, bacon, avocado, with sauté kale or spinach, or a green protein smoothie)

• Minimize or eliminate caffeine (try Teccino or dandy blend tea-taste just like coffee!)

Add in a B complex supplement. (stress depletes us of our B vitamins) Add in an extra B12 if you do not eat red meat
Add in a vitamin C with bioflavonoids, 1,000 mg. per day as stress will also deplete your vitamin C

Add in magnesium. I like magnesium l-threonate (crossed blood brain barrier), ReMag by Carolyn Dean, or Natural Calm magnesium powder to drink before bed time.

• Stress slows down your digestion making you absorb less nutrients so when stressed be sure to slow down, take 3 deep breaths before your meal and chew each bite of food 15-20 times.

• When stressed we tend to eat and work at the same time. Studies have shown that this actually reduces work performance. Take a brain break and eat away from your desk, get some fresh air and talk with a co- worker about something other than work. This will greatly reduce your stress load!

Herbs for Quick Stress relief

ginkgo flower picture
With herbs everyone reacts differently so some may love one herb for stress and another person may not get the same effect. It will be a try and see approach.

Purchase herbs for stress in tincture form (unless noted otherwise) and only get from reputable source such as Herb Pharm, Gaia Herbs or Rose Mountain Herbs or your local trusted herb shop. Try only one herb at a time so you know what is or isn’t working. Make sure the herbs you are using are certified organic.

Herbs in tincture form are more potent if made with alcohol. But if you have issues with alcohol it is still best to opt for the non-alcoholic tinctures. One dropper full of tincture has the alcohol amount that is equal to the amount of alcohol in one banana.
Always talk to your doctor before adding in any herbs as this is for educational purposes only since I am not aware of your medications, heath issues and more.

Gingko Biloba: Choose in extract/tincture form or gingkolide tablets. With tablets, take 160-180 mg. one time daily. It has been shown to be significantly more effective than a placebo for anxiety. It may reverse depression especially in older people on blood pressure medication. Do not use this herb if you have a racing mind at bed time. Also, avoid this herb if you are prone to migraines. I prefer this herb in tincture form. It is known as the herb for memory and concentration.

Kava: This is good to use if you have anxiety. Take 60-120 mg. daily and do not exceed 120 mg. daily. Do not use this herb for children. This herb is known to ground and center you, keeping you relaxed and alert. You can take this herb during the day as it will not make you drowsy. Kava is known to increase the dream state. It is a mood elevator. You can take 2 droppers full at bedtime or a heaping teaspoon in one cup water 2 times per day as a tea. You can mix your Kava with Valerian together at bedtime for improved sleep.

Eleuthero: This is an adaptogenic herb which has been shown to enhance mental performance, concentration and alertness. This is not an actual ginseng but is often called a ginseng because it works in a similar way. It is used for nervous breakdowns and depression. It is used to strengthen the entire system. Adaptogenic herbs help to build resilience to stress. Take any adaptogenic herb for 12 weeks only, then take a week or 2 off and then go back on or switch at that point to a different adaptogenic herb such as Rhodiola. Ashwagandha is also an adaptogenic herb and this one is better taken in the evening. Take only 1/8 of a teaspoon of eleuthero tincture.

Lemon Balm: This plant has anti-depressant effects along with calming, anti-anxiety effects as well. Use it to calm the nerves and to boost mood. Those with ADHD can also benefit from using this herb. Drink lemon balm tea one to three times daily. Use lemon balm tincture, 10-20 drops in water 3-5 times per day for depression, anxiety and tension headaches. Some people add fresh lemon balm leaves to their drinking water. Do not use if you have a hypothyroid condition.

Skullcap: This is good for nervousness, anxiety and stress. It is also useful for those of you with insomnia, especially if it is due to an overactive mind at bedtime. Take one half of a dropper full of tincture before bedtime.

Nettle leaves and seed: This is one of my favorites for body restoration. Nettles are a source of nutrients for all individuals. It is one of the most nourishing plants growing on the land. The leaves and seed offer a wide variety of nutrients. Take a dropper full of nettle leaf tincture 3 times per day or buy organic whole seeds, grind them up and eat 1-3 teaspoons per day.  (you can sprinkle the seeds into smoothies and salads). While this plant is not directly known for its anti-anxiety properties, it is nourishing and balancing and can support the body and give it what it needs during times of stress and anxiety. 

Motherwort: Do not take this herb if you have heavy menses. Otherwise, this is another good herb to use for anxiety. It is not a sedative so can be used during the day. A dose of 10-20 drops can safely be taken as often as every 10 minutes if needed to calm you down, say during a panic attack. Fresh tincture is best and best option as opposed to tea and capsules. Do not use this herb long term if you also have depression. It can relax you to the point of making you feel more depressed and unmotivated. Use it instead for episodic anxiety.

Valerian: This has a different feel to it, a different calming effect as oppose to Kava. It is helpful for anxiety and tension. This herb should be taken only at bedtime or when you know you are not going anywhere! Do not operate any heavy machinery or drive while taking valerian. For some it can give the opposite effect-instead of calming you down, it may increase your anxiety. For that reason, dose low. The same rule that applies to Motherwort applies to Valerian. Use on occasion to aid with sleep but don’t use it all the time during your depressive state. Most people do best using the tincture form instead of capsules. Take 400-900 mg per day of whole valerian or root extract.

Linden: It has been used to calm the nerves and promote rest.  The flowers and leaves are known to have a calming action on the nervous system.  Linden flower tea is very popular in Europe and used to calm the nerves and aid digestion as well. 

Tulsi Tea:  This is also called Holy Basil.  Choose an organic brand and drink 1 to 3 times per day during times of stress. I like the brand Organic India. 

Sage Leaf: Sage promotes a calming sensation to the brain and is good for those who tend to “overthink”.  If you tend to get sweaty palms or produce excess sweat during times of feeling anxious, sage can he helpful for that as well.  Take this in tincture form at one to three droppers per day. 


Balch, P. ( 2012)   Prescription for Herbal Healing.  2nd Edition.  NY: Avery Publishing

Gaby, A.(2006) The Natural Pharmacy. Revised and updated 3rd edition.  NY: Three Rivers Press

Gladstar, R. (2012) Medicinal Herbs. A beginners Guide.  CA: Story Publishing

Hoffman, D. (2003) Medical Herbalism.  VT: Healing Arts Press

Mars, B. (2007) The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine.  CA: Basic Health Publications

Pursell, JJ.  (2015) The Healing Apothecary.  OR: Timber Press. 

Skenderi, G. (2003) Herbal Vade Mecum. NJ: Herbacy Press


Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services LLC believes in supporting the body with food, herbs and supplements to get you feeling your best. For more information visit her site at www.trufoodsnutrition.com. She is the author of the E book Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition, Supplement and Herb Guide

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