Is Stress Getting You Down?

by David Edelberg, MD

Do you feel "beaten up" -- tired, achy, stressed out, anxious, depressed, forgetful, headachy, or lacking energy and focus? You may be experiencing the Triple Whammy, a three-pronged assault on your body and mind consisting of: non-stop stress, a shortage of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, and your ever-shifting hormones.

Here's the science behind the Triple Whammy:

  • Women are poorly protected against the dangers of unchecked stress on their bodies because they have less serotonin, which acts as a vitally important stress buffer.
  • Women are genetically predisposed to low serotonin, one of the feel-good neurotransmitters in our brains. Women actually have more serotonin than men, but it doesn't work as efficiently.
  • Women have shifting tides of hormones -- which themselves control serotonin level and function -- monthly and throughout life.

Triple Whammy Disorders

Each Triple Whammy disorder involves this low level of serotonin. The disorders are either triggered or aggravated by stress and made worse by shifts in your female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. What also characterizes Triple Whammy disorders is their tendency to appear and reappear in different forms throughout a susceptible woman's life. What may have been called .nervous stomach. in your childhood may later manifest as irritable bowel syndrome during finals week in college, premenstrual migraines during your twenties, food cravings in your thirties, and fibromyalgia in your forties.

Triple Whammy disorders include: anxiety disorders; chronic fatigue syndrome; depression; fibromyalgia; irritable bowel syndrome; memory loss and brain fog; menopause transition symptoms; migraine headaches; postpartum depression; premenstrual syndrome (PMS); seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and wintertime blues; sleep problems; smoking; temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ); weight loss agonies.

Here's how to tackle the Triple Whammy.

Reducing stress: One of the three fundamentals of the TWC is reducing stress. You've probably already read (and read!) about stress and the damage it causes your mind and body. But perhaps this is the first time you've heard a doctor tell you that you're more vulnerable to stress than men. It's true. Because the amount of stress-protecting serotonin circulating in your body is far less than men have, you are under-protected against stress, which leaves you more vulnerable to Triple Whammy symptoms and disorders.

My recommendations for stress-relief include teaching yourself not to worry, walking in the sunlight, massage, meditation, t'ai chi, acupressure, yoga, acupuncture, and health spas. My prescription focuses on you taking time every day to melt away your stress in some definitely fun and interesting ways.

Boosting serotonin: The second element of the TWC is boosting your feel-good, stress-protecting serotonin levels as high as we can get them -- to protect you from stress and help you feel well again. If you've done any reading about antidepressants, you already know that these pharmaceuticals help increase the amount of serotonin available to you. But did you know there are many incredibly effective non-drug methods of increasing your serotonin? (I'm not against antidepressants, by the way. They're life-saving drugs for many people, but many of the women I treat can increase their serotonin levels just fine without antidepressants.)

In The Triple Whammy Cure, I lay out an easy serotonin-boosting plan to follow every day. This includes walking outside without sunglasses (so the light can enter your eyes and then your brain, where it boosts serotonin); timing your intake of carbs throughout the day; taking two supplements (B Vitamins and Fish Oil) that provide the raw materials for serotonin; and supplementing those with the herb St. John's Wort and the amino acid 5HTP if needed.

Balancing hormones: Your fluctuating hormones -- whether you're going through menopause or having periods -- dramatically affect your feel-good serotonin levels. In fact, hormones and serotonin are like a two-car roller coaster: when your estrogen goes up, so does your serotonin and your happy mood. But when estrogen plummets, as it does in the week before your period and during the menopause transition, so does serotonin. Balancing your hormones will even out these hormonal swings and their physical effects, too, such as breast tenderness and bloating, hot flashes, and night sweats.

Did you know that the foods you eat have a significant impact on how your hormones function? In addition to all fruits and vegetables, here are a few feel-good serotonin elevating foods to enjoy throughout the day: walnuts and flaxseed and their oils (terrific sources of omega-3s), and soybean products such as tofu, soy milk, vegetarian meat replacements and tempeh -- each rich in isoflavones, powerful natural components of the soy plant chemically similar to your own estrogen.

Take the TRIPLE WHAMMY QUIZ To See If You Suffer Unnecessarily

Answer each question "yes" or "no." Then calculate your score.

  1. Do you frequently experience any of the following: excessive fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, brain fog, depression, or anxiety?
  2. When you told your doctor about these symptoms, did you hear .your tests are normal. or .I can't find anything wrong with you.?
  3. Do you feel your overall stress has been higher during the past year than at other times in your life?
  4. Do you feel your life changed for the worse -- emotionally, physically, or both -- after an especially traumatic event, such as an illness, injury, surgery, toxic relationship, overwork, or the death of a loved one?
  5. Do you spend little or no time taking care of yourself (the .I put myself last. syndrome)?
  6. Have you ever been diagnosed with any of the following: depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, tension or migraine headaches, TMJ (jaw grinding), premenstrual syndrome?
  7. Did any of your blood relatives have any of these disorders?
  8. Do any of the symptoms from Question #1 or the disorders in Question #6 get worse during the days before your period?
  9. Do you feel the week after your period is your best of the entire month?
  10. Are you especially sensitive to chemical smells and the side effects of prescription drugs?

Score: Each "yes" answer equals one point.

6-10: Definite Triple Whammy issues. I suspect you feel crummy much of your day. Follow The Triple Whammy Cure three-week plan and also the specific healing path for any Triple Whammy disorder you have to begin reversing your symptoms. 2-5: The quality of your life is genuinely being affected by Triple Whammy symptoms. Follow the three-week plan in The Triple Whammy Cure to reclaim your energy.

0-1: Unless your single YES answer is to Question #1, feel blessed that you're likely not affected by the Triple Whammy.

David Edelberg, M.D., the author of The Triple Whammy Cure, is a practicing physician for more than 30 years and was chief medical adviser of In 1993, he founded American Wholehealth (AWH), a network of health care centers that combines conventional and alternative medicine. He teaches alternative and integrative medicine to medical students and residents from the University of Chicago. For more information about The Triple Whammy Cure visit

Copyright © David Edelberg, M.D. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.