Heart disease is still one of the leading killers in the United States – so it’s no surprise that preventing it by the simplest means possible is a major goal. Just over a decade ago, researchers created a “polypill,” combining several heart medications into one. Now, a new clinical trial shows just how effective it may be in preventing heart attack and stroke in people middle-aged and older.

On average, participants experienced a 12% reduction in blood pressure, and a 39% reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

In the new study, the researchers gave the polypill to 84 people over the age of 50, none of whom had had any heart trouble in the past. The pill combined three medications to lower blood pressure and one cholesterol-lowering statin. Half the participants took the polypill for three months and then switch to placebo – the other half took the placebo first, and then switched to the polypill. In this way, participants served as their own controls.

On average, participants experienced a 12% reduction in blood pressure, and a 39% reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. These numbers, according to the researchers, are what one would expect to see in a 20-year old person.

"The health implications of our results are large,” said lead author David Wald in a news release. “If people took the Polypill from age 50, an estimated 28 percent would benefit by avoiding or delaying a heart attack or stroke during their lifetime; on average, those who benefit would gain 11 years of life without a heart attack or stroke."

David Taylor, a professor of Pharmaceutical and Public Health Policy at University College London, who also served as a participant in the trial, said, "The Polypill concept is a major public health advance. This study shows that it works. The Polypill should be made generally available as a matter of urgency. I welcome the opportunity to substantially cut my risk of having a stroke or heart attack without the disempowering fuss and bother usually required to obtain preventive medicines."

In the U.K., where the study was done, the researchers estimate that about 94,000 heart attacks and stroke would be prevented each year if even half of the population above the age of 50 took the polypill as a preventative measure. More research may need to be done to determine proper dosing and safety. But the research looks promising, and may be a powerful new tool to protect people from cardiovascular disease in the future.

The study was carried out by a team at Queen Mary, University of London, and published in the journal PLoS ONE.