One of the blood tests I order in almost every female patient who requires blood work is a ferritin screening test; this test reflects a person’s iron stores and picks up even subtly decreased levels. You don’t have to be overtly anemic to be low in iron (monthly blood loss and not eating enough iron-rich foods can be key contributors); many women feel vaguely tired and foggy-brained, and aren’t aware that their iron stores are low. Low ferritin levels are also tied to hair loss. For optimal hair health, specialists recommend that women use iron supplements to get their levels up to at least 40 mcg/L. Too much iron can be toxic, though, so don’t take supplements without having blood tests first.
Food sources of iron: Clams, chicken liver, mussels, shrimp, beef, quinoa
Do you crave chocolate? Some experts believe your body could actually be begging you for magnesium, which is found in cocoa and other foods. This mineral has many functions in the body: It helps nerves, muscles and the heart to function properly; supports the immune system; and strengthens bones. According to a study published in the 2009 Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the average magnesium intake of women in North America is 68 percent of the recommended level. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis, and taking a magnesium supplement of no more than 350 mg at night may even improve the quality of your sleep. A blood test can be done to measure your level.
Food sources of magnesium: Spinach, cocoa, potatoes, dried beans and lentils, fish, whole grains
Most women know extra folate is needed during pregnancy (or if you are trying to conceive) to prevent birth defects, but low folate can also affect your mood. It helps synthesize feel-good serotonin in your brain, and studies have shown that people with low folate are more prone to depression. Supplementation is recommended for all women of child-bearing age. That’s especially true for those who are taking the birth control pill, since it can lower folate levels. The recommended dose is 400 mcg/day.
Food sources of folate: Lentils; romano, black, pinto and kidney beans; chickpeas; cooked asparagus and spinach