Dishing out a polypill to members of the public aged over 55 could, when combined with exercise and other lifestyle interventions, cut death and disability rates from cardiovascular disease in half, research by the London School of Pharmacy indicates.

According to its report Winning Combinations, many more people could live in good health for longer by popping a low-dose polypill containing drugs to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and sticking to healthy living, by exercising and not smoking, for example.

This, it argues, could help people to age without developing metabolic syndromes such as type II diabetes and coronary heart disease, which reduce life expectancy and represent a massive strain on National Health Service resources.

Every year there are 200,000 heart disease and stroke deaths in the country and up to ten times more survivors living with associated disabilities. According to report author Professor David Taylor, “more effective approaches to using well proven medicines to achieve public health goals like reducing population cholesterol and blood pressure levels could, especially when combined with the successful promotion of protective lifestyles, significantly cut this burden of harm in the coming decade”.

Furthermore, he claims that such a blanket approach could also help to tackle health inequalities, which are still rife throughout the country today and which the government is working hard to address through various policies.

No conflict
The idea of mass medicating the public as a preventive measure against disease does not sit well with everyone, however, particularly as it is feared such measures could interfere with encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles by making them too reliant on pills alone for good health. But the School of Pharmacy’s analysis “finds that there needs to be no conflict between rational medicine taking and lifestyle change based approaches to health improvement”.

The report concludes that GPs and community pharmacists should “work together to help everyone get convenient and safe access to pharmaceutical protection that can save lives,” and calls for health policy makers around the globe to “adopt science-based policies” that encourage pharmaceutical companies to create polypills using older generic medicines too, to help avoid complex patenting issues and ensure that “all available technologies are used to optimal effect”.