Profit for Big Pharma: a polypill for every ill?

23 Aug

1st July 2003: Dr Peter Mansfield wrote:

Drug companies love “blockbusters”, and last week’s proposal is their boldest yet. One pill to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by a huge fraction – wonderful! Provided, that is, the whole population over 50 can be persuaded to take them!

Wonderful? No, not at all. The proposed pill would contain folic acid to reduce homocysteine, now thought to be more closely associated with coronary risk than cholesterol. Folic acid is a variety of vitamin B, found abundantly in leaves (foliage). So you don’t need a pill for folic acid – just eat plenty of greens. And we mean plenty – heart protection requires quite a lot.

That’s not all we’ll get in the polypill. It will contain good old aspirin, to thin the blood and help prevent the clotting that precipitates coronaries and strokes. That’s fine in selected cases, but we’re all going to be asked to take this version. People have been made anaemic by taking aspirin to prevent a second coronary – and that is with medical advice. Millions of us taking it every day without supervision would produce thousands more cases like that.

Could it be to keep three rival manufacturers happy?

The real give-away is the three blood pressure drugs proposed for the cocktail. Which three? We don’t yet know – another five years’ research will tell us. So why three? Call us cynical, but could it be to keep three rival manufacturers happy?

There are no blood pressure treatments that are free of all side effects, and all tend to lower blood pressure from your existing level whatever that is. So people with normal blood pressure taking this wonder-pill will start fainting because their pressure is too low, or suffering other side effects. And in any case, the notion that reducing blood pressure reduces heart attacks wholesale is entirely presumptive.

This is a bad, bad idea. We don’t blame the firms for flying the kite but we are amazed that nobody has yet seen through it. Your heart needs a lot more than one nutrient and four drugs to keep it ticking. All the usual wholefood nourishment- not just breakfast cereal – including lots of anti-oxidants, help to maintain heart muscle in its prime, keep blood naturally “thin” and repair artery damage neatly when needed, which is seldom in these circumstances. An adequate metabolic rate ensures proper repair of the elastic lining of coronary blood vessels. This is promoted by the regular moderate exercise that is also required to keep it fit.

Treat yourself at least as well as you treat your car. Don’t rely on a petrol additive to stop the bodywork rusting!


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