What Does the Polypill Promise?

If you haven't heard about the polypill yet, chances are you will soon. Research is showing that a once-a-day single pill that combines aspirin, blood pressure, and cholesterol drugs to reduce heart disease risk and treat the problem once it develops may be safe and effective.

In addition to offering patients a way to limit the amount of pills they have to take every day, the polypill is also presenting a viable treatment option for heart disease patients in developing countries that don't have easy access to medical care or who have trouble adhering to a treatment protocol.

Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, opened a polypill study in Sri Lanka, where they enrolled 216 healthy participants. Half the study volunteers received "standard" treatment for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention and the other half were given the polypill.

At the end of the study, no safety issues were reported and the majority of the participants who completed the trial—90 percent—said that they would take the polypill "for life" if the medication proved to be effective in reducing CVD risk.

In addition to proving the safety of the polypill, researchers say they also have to determine which patient population would benefit most from the medication: those at risk for developing CVD or those who have already had a heart attack or stroke. In addition, researchers are still studying what exact combinations of medications should be included in a polypill. It's believed that low doses of each of the following medications could be effective:

  • Aspirin
  • Water pills (diuretics)
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications (statins)
  • Medications to make your heart beat with less force (beta blockers)
  • Medications to help keep your blood vessels open (ACE inhibitors)

Preventing Heart Disease

Although heart disease is a leading cause of death in this country for both men and women, there are many steps you can take to prevent heart disease. Here are five:

1. Don't smoke

2. Get regular exercise—at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity—on most or all days of the week

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and fish high in omega 3-fatty acids, such as salmon.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

5. Get regular health screenings, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes screenings

ScienceDaily. "Cardiovascular Disease: Polypill Appears Safe and Accepted by Physicians and Patients in Developing Countries."