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How To Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke


Please join maverick Boulder internal medicine physician Bill Blanchet as he shares his clinical research on two of the country’s biggest killers. Dr Blanchet breaks from the medical establishment to explain how you can easily assess your risk, how seemingly unrelated factors like sleep apnea and gum disease can increase your risk, and what to do to keep the two killers at bay.

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Two months ago, on a flight home from Mexico, I looked over to find my Mom struggling to fill out her customs form. Her state of confusion and right hand numbness were giveaways that this perfectly healthy 75 year-old was succumbing to a mid-air stroke. Thanks to the blessings of modern medicine, good genetics and CrossFit, she was back to her full workout routine just three weeks later. To her, the stroke and the ensuing intra-carotid surgery were retrospectively “no big deal.” But it’s kind of hard for her son to see it that way since strokes are one of the US’s top killers, and she was 3 hours from being in a third-world country when it happened.

Two years ago, I lost my close friend, David Goldberg, to a heart attack. He was a wonderful guy, and just 47. He was on a treadmill at the time, and as far as I know, had no prior symptoms or warning signs.

A year ago, CrossFit Sanitas member Paul Lipton was luckier and had some warning signs. He scheduled a pre-emptive quintuple bypass before he was similarly felled. Paul is now bench pressing over his bodyweight for the first time… at the tender age of 71 less than a year after his surgery.

And just last weekend, my stepfather-in-law, John Johnson, suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow and thankfully was able to drive himself down from the mountains in time for emergency surgery to insert two stents. His sister died of a heart attack just last year. John is home recovering, and tells my wife this was the wake-up call he needed…. It better be!

Why am I suddenly surrounded by cardiovascular disease? 

The sad truth is that we all are. Over 25% of the US population will die from a stroke or heart attack, and my recent experience suggests that at least that many will also suffer one without dying from it, so let’s say 50% incidence. Which raises the question – how do you beat the odds?

These cardiovascular incidents have two things in common:

1)    If you are fortunate to catch them early enough, modern medicine may pull off a miracle and have you back in the game in weeks, if not days. After a big scare for you and your family, a massive stress on your system that can itself shorten your life, dangerous surgery, and tens of thousands of dollars added to the Health Care crisis.

2)    The vast majority are avoidable.

Let’s focus on number 2, shall we? Don’t worry, this isn’t another nutrition and exercise lecture. It is really, really hard to have a heart attack or a stroke unless there is plaque blocking the flow of blood to your heart or brain.  And there is no way to know if you have plaque, unless you check. Eating well is no guarantee, exercise is no guarantee, most cholesterol tests and blood pressure tests don’t give you the whole story, and how you feel now certainly has nothing to do with it (just ask the folks above how they felt the day before their incident). Genetics play such a big role here that no one is immune. In fact, I recently learned that I have mild heart plaque – apparently even obsessive CrossFit and Paleo don’t guarantee immunity!

So Heart Disease is Everywhere… What do I do?

Here’s the good news. It costs under $400 to scan your heart and carotid artery for plaque. Boulder has at least one scanner, at Goose Creek Imaging.

If you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50, you should be scanning at least every few years. It is quick and painless and it will put your mind at ease or give you the kick in the butt you need. The good news is that most plaque is controllable – yes diet and exercise, but also via supplements, vitamins and even baby aspirin. Some of us will also need special care from the dentist and sleep clinic (gum disease and apnea are big contributors). And if your plaque is out of control, it’s probably a good idea to know that too so you can take more aggressive measures, like preventive surgery that would have prevented nearly every incident above.

So why hasn’t your Doctor told you about this?

Why isn’t it covered by insurance? Why isn’t the AMA more supportive? 

I will leave conspiracy theories about the medical-industrial complex to others. All I know is that a scan would have prevented Mom and John’s respective stroke and heart attack, because they each had a blockage of over 85%, which would have led to an immediate preventive surgery referral. And maybe if my friend Dave had known about heart and carotid scans, his two kids would have a father right now.

Get your scan. Tell your friends to get their scan. Tell your parents to get their scan. And then give me a buzz if you need a nutrition and exercise lecture!

On June 8th at 6:00pm, join us at CrossFit Sanitas with Boulder internal medicine physician Dr. Bill Blanchet for a free seminar on these issues, the warning signs, and how to prevent your risk of heart disease and stroke. More details here.

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What are “Macros” and Why They’re More Important Than Calories

You’ve probably heard the word “macro” before and I’m sure you’ve heard someone talk about how they track their macros, or how many macros they get to eat, etc.

So what the heck are macros?

Macro simply stands for macronutrients, and the Webster Medical definition of macronutrients is: “a substance (as a protein, carbohydrate, or fat) required in relatively large quantities for growth, energy and health.”

So the 3 main macros that we are going to pay attention to are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. There are lots of other micronutrients (think fiber, vitamins, etc.), but we are going to focus on the main three.

Once you have a general understanding of what the three main macros are, I’ll talk about why you might want to pay attention to your macros and not just your calories.

The Three Main Macros & What They Do

  • Carbohydrates: Carbs are your friend. Carbs are fuel. When consumed, carbs are stored in the muscles as glycogen, are used during a workout, and used to help the body recover (carbs speed up the rate at which protein is absorbed). Everyone’s carbohydrate needs are going to be different based on their activity level.
  • Protein: Protein can help preserve lean muscle mass and it can help you build muscle mass (if that is your goal). Protein has a high thermic effect (your body must work to digest protein, which means it takes energy to digest). Protein will also help keep you feeling full longer.
  • Fat: The world is at war with fat, but fats are vital for proper hormone function (and play a large role in testosterone production). Fats also assist with vitamin absorption and brain function. Keep in mind, they are easy to over-consume since they are the most energy dense of macronutrients.

Why Macros Versus Just Calories?

Calories provide the body with the energy it needs to survive, which is something that everyone can agree on. Counting calories can be beneficial and effective for a short amount of time, but what calorie-counters don’t often consider is WHERE those calories come from and what they are made up of, i.e. how much of that meal was made up of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Your body will function at its best and you will feel your best when your body is getting fed properly. Because each macro plays a vital role in your body, finding the right amount of each you should be consuming will not only have you feeling your best, but it will also have you looking your best. You might not change the number of calories that you consume, but the way you are getting those calories will change once you figure out YOUR macros.

So What’s The Calorie Content of Each Macro?

  • 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Knowing That, How Do I Figure Out My Macro?

Knowing the calorie content of each macro will help us figure out our ideal macros. Grab your calculator and pen and get ready to calculate your macros step-by-step.

Step 1: Find the calories you need to consume here.

Step 2: Find your Lean Body Mass (you will have this number if you have done a body fat test).

Step 3: Calculate the grams of protein you should eat by multiplying your lean body mass by

0.8-1.2 (if you are more active use the higher side of the scale).

Step 4: Calculate the grams of fat you should eat by multiplying your lean body mass by 0.3-0.7 (if you are more active use the higher side of the scale).

Step 5: Figure out how many calories will come from protein and fat (multiply the grams of protein you found by 4 and multiply the grams of fat your found by 9).

Step 6: Subtract the number of calories from protein and fat from your total calorie goal (what we found in Step 1).

Step 7: Divide the number you just found by 4 to figure out your grams of carbohydrates.

You should now have the amount of grams you should consume for all three of the main macros. This number is a great place to start. Test it out for three weeks, see how your body and your workouts feel!

Tracking Your Macros

If you want to be serious about tracking you can weigh your foods, but if you don’t want to you can loosely track your macros by estimating (keep in mind you should know what realistic serving sizes are first). A great tracking tool is My Fitness Pal.

Things To Keep In Mind

  • All calories are not created equal.
  • Don’t put your body into starvation mode by under-eating. This will not only throw your hormones out of balance, but it will also greatly affect your ability to lose weight and put on lean muscle.
  • EAT ALL YOUR MACROS.
  • Try to make each meal have a good source of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

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