'Polypill' No Heart Risk Magic Bullet for Now

For example, the pill contains just 20 milligrams of simvastatin, the active ingredient in the widely-used pill Zocor. By comparison, Zocor tablets can contain as little as 5 milligrams or as much as 80 milligrams of simvastatin.

And Dr. Domenic Sica, head of the section of clinical pharmacology and hypertension at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, agreed that there could be problems with this nontailored, combination approach.

"The most important issue is: Who would be the target population for this therapy, in that patients with more substantive elevations in LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure would require more aggressive therapy than what might be available from the components of the preparation?" Sica said.

Teo, however, noted that in the future, polypills could be tailored for different patient groups, offering a more individualized type of treatment.

"I don't think that there is going to be just one polypill," he said. "I could imagine that a polypill for someone who has had a heart attack could be different. In a way, you could have tailored polypills for groups of people with different conditions."

Still, Bonow said, much more research is needed. The study only measured two indicators of heart health -- low blood cholesterol, and low blood pressure. And these factors were measured only over the course of 12 weeks. The design of the study, therefore, did not track the number of people who were either saved by the pill or died from heart-related causes.

"People may begin emphasizing this pill, but that is not what we need to do," Bonow said. "There's no magic bullet."

And even though no significant side effects were reported in this most recent study, Sica added that with five drugs comes five sets of possible side effects and drug interactions.

"In reality, the only way that the polypill works is if there are no side effects to all five components," he said. "I do not see this as likely."

Best 'Polypill' May Be Healthy Lifestyle

Still, Bonow said that further research may indeed uncover a strategy for treating at least a segment of U.S. heart patients. Specifically, he said that in patients who have already had a heart attack -- a group known for not taking their medications -- taking a single pill daily could be a much easier proposal that taking a number of pills.

But for everyone else, he said, the best solution may not reside in their medicine cabinets.

"We already have a 'polypill,' and it's called exercise," he said. "Exercise does everything that the 'polypill' supposedly does."

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