'Polypill' No Heart Risk Magic Bullet for Now

What do you get when you combine three blood-pressure-lowering drugs, a cholesterol-busting statin, and aspirin into a single pill?

The answer is a "kitchen sink" approach that proponents say could reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels -- two well-known heart disease risk factors -- significantly for some, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology's 58th annual scientific session in Orlando.

But heart experts cautioned that the pill is no magic bullet. And they said that for now, at least, it is unlikely that most of those at risk of heart disease in the United States would benefit from the pill -- termed the "polypill" -- whose low dosages of its component medications fall short of heart treatments that are tailored specifically to individual patients' needs.

Still, study investigator Dr. Koon Teo, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario, Canada, told ABCNews.com that the pill may, in the future, represent a paradigm shift in terms of the way heart patients take their medicines.

"I think the evidence from the use of these medicines is already in; the question is, how do we best deliver it," Teo said. "If we put these drugs into one capsule, patients will be more compliant, as they will just take one pill daily."

And in a press release, principal investigator Salim Yusuf of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario, Canada, said the pill showed promise in the Indian Polycap Study, which compared the effects of the pill against eight other approaches on more than 2,000 study participants in India.

"The thought that people might be able to take a single pill to reduce multiple cardiovascular risk factors has generated a lot of excitement; it could revolutionize heart disease prevention as we know it," Yusuf said in the statement, adding that the polypill represented the first attempt to put five such medications into a single pill. "Side effects with the polypill were no different than when taking one or two medications."

Developing Nations' Hearts Could Benefit From Polypill

Despite the positive findings, heart doctors said that the pill is unlikely to be the best choice for all heart patients. Dr. Robert Bonow, past president of the American Heart Association and co-director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, said that while the pill might be better than nothing for many who would otherwise receive no care, a one-size-fits-all approach would likely fall short in the United States.

"This study was done in India, and I believe that this is where this kind of approach on a population basis could pay off," Bonow said. He added that such inexpensive and potentially widely available strategies could be an important weapon against heart disease in countries that adopt the unhealthy lifestyle habits that often come part and parcel with industrialization.

But, he noted, the number of medications included in the pill makes tailored treatment impossible.

"This is not a tailored treatment, and it's low doses," he said. "So maybe in people with high blood pressure, it is not enough to lower their blood pressure. Or in people with high cholesterol, it is not enough to get them to the target cholesterol levels that their physicians would like to see."

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