Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women all over the globe, according to the World Health Organization.
Approximately 17.9 million people died from heart diseases in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths. Eighty-five percent of those are due to heart attack and stroke.
During a heart attack, the heart muscle struggles to get enough blood flow. The more time that passes without restored flow, the greater the potential damage.
Experts often recommend improving overall physical health and treating other medical conditions as a way to prevent heart attacks—and heart disease in general. But new research suggests taking one pill every day, especially if you live in a lower income country, may also help. In fact, taking one pill daily may even slash your risk of heart attack by half.
That’s according to a study recently published in The Lancet, for which researchers proposed a “fixed-dose combination therapy” or a “polypill” to reduce the burden of heart disease in low-income and middle-income countries. These pills, the New York Times reported, “contained a cholesterol-lowering statin, two blood-pressure drugs and a low-dose aspirin.”
Many people can’t afford or don’t stick with taking so many medicines separately, so doctors think such a a drug might fare better. A previous study testing one in India found it lowered cholesterol and blood pressure. The new study is much larger and gives stronger evidence because it tracked heart attacks, strokes and other problems — not just risk factors. The research was paid for by Tehran University of Medical Sciences, a foundation and Alborz Darou, the company that makes the polypills.
Scientists followed nearly 7,000 rural villagers aged 50 to 75 in Iran between February 2011 and April 2013 and found that those who regularly took these “polypills” cut their risk of heart attack by more than half.
After five years, 6% of those in the pill group had suffered a heart attack, stroke or heart failure versus 9% of the others. That worked out to a 34% lower risk with the polypill, and a 22% lower risk after researchers took into account other heart drugs that participants were taking. People who took the polypill most faithfully, at least 70% of the time, had even bigger reductions in heart risks.
Even though the research is compelling, many medical experts are still wary of a “one-size-fits-all” drug. In wealthier countries, researchers question whether drugs (aspirin in particular) should be given to healthy, older people. Some cardiologists argue “aspirin, statins and blood-pressure drugs all have side effects” and “no one should get them without first being assessed for risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or family history,” according to the Times.
The benefits of a polypill to address heart attack risk may be minimal for people who already have access to good health care.
“But if you’re in a system where people don’t have great access, then this is a significant advantage,” study author Tom Marshall of Britain’s University of Birmingham said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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