Harvard Men's Health Watch

Food for thought: The polymeal

Cardiovascular disease is common in the industrial world, and as globalization spreads the Western lifestyle, the epidemic of heart disease is following in its wake. In the United States alone, heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death, taking about 800,000 lives annually. It doesn't have to be that way.

Scientists have made enormous progress in understanding the causes of atherosclerosis, and they know how to prevent it. But if the theory of prevention is sound, the practice lags behind.

The polypill

To close the gap, two distinguished British scientists proposed a "polypill," which would combine six medications in a single tablet. The pill "prescribed" by Dr. N.J. Wald and Dr. M.R. Law would contain a statin drug to lower cholesterol, three antihypertensive medications (a thiazide diuretic, a beta blocker, and an ACE inhibitor) to lower blood pressure, aspirin to reduce blood clotting, and folic acid (a B vitamin) to lower homocysteine levels. According to the plan, nearly everyone over the age of 55 would take one polypill a day, as would almost all younger people with cardiovascular disease. According to calculations, the polypill might reduce the risk of cardiac events by 88% and stroke by 80%. One-third of those taking the pill would benefit, gaining an average of about 11 years. Up to 15% of polypill users would experience mostly mild side effects.

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