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Fitness | KATHY SMITH

Take a Walk for Prevention of Birth Defects

April 19, 1999|KATHY SMITH

I met Jody Adams last year when we made a March of Dimes video together. It's then that I heard her painful but ultimately inspirational story.

Adams was a registered nurse at a hospital labor and delivery department, where she routinely helped to deliver several babies a day. On this day, 10 years ago, she was also pregnant with her first child.

She had noticed this morning that the baby didn't seem to be moving inside her. She dismissed her concerns as paranoia--the fears of a professional who knows too much--and went about her job as usual.

At the end of her shift, when she still hadn't felt any movement, she strapped a fetal monitor to her abdomen. No heartbeat. An ultrasound soon confirmed that the fetus had died in its 24th week. It was a terrible blow to Jody and her husband.

What Jody's doctor discovered after inducing delivery was the cause of death: cervical meningocele, which is one of several serious birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects. Other NTDs include spina bifida and anencephaly.

How had this happened? Adams wanted to know in her grief.

While it's true our pursuit of happiness is sometimes derailed by awful, unexplainable accidents of biology, in this case there was an understandable--and preventable--cause.

Adams' aunt, a doctor of pharmacology, told her what her own physician had not: Consuming 400 micrograms of the B-vitamin folic acid every day beginning at least three months before conception and throughout pregnancy can significantly reduce the likelihood of NTDs. Adams immediately began taking folic acid and a year later gave birth to a healthy, beautiful girl named Kelsey.

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Obviously, the prevention of NTDs is an issue of utmost importance; at least 2,500 children could be saved every year if their mothers added enough folate (the natural form of folic acid) to their diets, according to information from the March of Dimes.

But beyond that, more and more doctors are now recommending that everyone, not just pregnant women, ought to take a daily minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid.

So where do we get folic acid? Well, vitamin supplements are certainly one answer. But folate can also be found in a variety of foods. An 8-ounce cup of orange juice, for example, has about 100 micrograms (a microgram is one-millionth of a gram), although the same amount of apple juice has almost none.

According to the March of Dimes, green leafy vegetables like spinach, turnips, and mustard greens also have about 100 micrograms of folate per half-cup serving, if they're not overcooked. Fortified noodles have more than 150 micrograms per average serving. Meat has virtually no folate in it, with the exception of chicken liver, which has nearly 550 micrograms a serving. Whole wheat bread and other whole-grain bread products, dried pinto and navy beans, and peanuts are also rich in folate, with more than 100 micrograms per average serving. Most breakfast cereals are fortified with folate, so a bowl in the morning can get you well on your way to 400 micrograms.

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Thursday is Kelsey Adams' ninth birthday. How fitting, then, that two days later, on April 24, the March of Dimes is holding the nation's largest-ever walking event. Called WalkAmerica 1999, its goal is to raise awareness of birth defects and what we can do to prevent them.

In dozens of cities and towns across the country, people are being asked to walk with the sponsorship of friends, family, business associates and neighbors. All the proceeds go to the March of Dimes, for which Kelsey is a national ambassador.

I hope you'll join me, Kelsey and Jody in walking for this wonderful cause. There couldn't be a better way to wish her a happy birthday than by improving the health of babies yet to be born.

Copyright 1999 by Kathy Smith

Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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