The idea has been around for two decades or so: Give people one pill containing different drugs to fight an array of heart ailments. Now, the first major long-term study of the concept is in the books—and researchers say it works, reports the BBC. The details are laid out in the Lancet: Researchers created a “polypill” with four generic drugs: a statin to lower cholesterol, aspirin to thin blood, and two drugs to keep blood pressure low. They gave it to about 3,400 people over the age of 50 in rural Iran for five years. About the same number of people were similarly monitored, but that group did not take the pill. In the end, the group taking the pill had 202 serious cardiovascular events, while the no-pill group had 301. That translates to a 30% reduced risk of heart issues—for a pill that costs pennies a day, per the Guardian.
“We’ve provided evidence in a developing or middle-income country—and that’s a lot of countries—that this is a strategy worth considering,” the University of Birmingham’s Tom Marshall tells the -. The polypill is not seen as useful in richer countries, where doctors tend to have more one-on-one relations with patients. Similar studies are taking part in other nations, and if they have the same results, this kind of pill could become an important new tool for doctors. One big issue: Disagreement over what drugs the pill should contain, notes the New York Times. For example, a daily aspirin is no longer seen as a good idea for those without heart risks, as it was when the Iran study was conceived 14 years ago. One expert in the Times story also criticizes the “one-size-fits-all” approach to medicine. (Read more heart attack stories.)