So many different drugs can play a role in cutting heart disease risk that in 2003 a pair of researchers proposed boiling six of them down to one convenient tablet. They called it the Polypill, and advocated including a cholesterol-lowering statin, three blood pressure drugs, folic acid, and aspirin. The concept has yet to materialize into a drugstore product. But while the world waits for the Polypill, why not get started with a diet of proven heart-healthy foods already available at your grocery store? That's what a Dutch research team asked as they searched for a daily diet of foods proven to cut cardiovascular disease risk factors. They called their evidence-based culinary creation the Polymeal, and they say it could safely help extend the lives of adults by years.
What the researchers wanted to know: What would a daily diet made up of proven heart-healthy foods look like? How much would it cost the average consumer, and how well might it work to prevent heart disease?
What they did: Researchers scanned the medical literature for foods proven to cut heart disease risk or lower risk factors. They then applied the expected effects to life tables derived from the Framingham heart study, an experiment following 5,209 adults for 46 years.
What they found: The Polymeal is readily available, and, researchers stress, potentially quite tasty. Eating 4 oz. of fish four times a week cuts the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14 percent, while 14 oz. of fruits and vegetables per day lowers risk another 21 percent. Add 2.4 oz. of almonds and 1/10 oz. fresh garlic for proven cholesterol lowering, and enjoy an average 5.1mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure when you top it off with 100g of dark chocolate. Of course no Polymeal would be complete without a daily 5 oz. glass of wine (any variety), shown to cut overall cardiovascular disease risk by 32 percent. The combined effects of the Polymeal could cut heart disease risk by 76 percent in the average adult, which, according to the Framingham life tables, could extend average life expectancy 6.6 years for men and 4.8 years for women, the team said.
What the study means to you: Eating the Polymeal each day could help reduce heart disease risk, all for an estimated $28.10 per week at the local supermarket in Rotterdam. That is, if you can stand to eat fish with garlic and almonds every day. We'll assume the wine and chocolate won't be a burden.
Caveats: No one is sure if the benefits of each Polymeal food actually combine to an overall disease risk reduction of 76 percent, and real-world benefits could be less. Researchers caution against driving after your glass of wine, and warn that a garlic-laden Polymeal could also cut the chances of romantic success after dinner. On the plus side, widespread Polymeal consumption could lead hundreds of cardiologists to second careers as chefs, they say.
Find out more: The British Food Standards Agency has information on heart-healthy eating.
Enter a competition to design a polymeal.
Read the article: Franco, O.H., et al. "The Polymeal: A More Natural, Safer, and Probably Tastier (Than the Polypill) Strategy to Reduce Cardiovascular Disease by More Than 75 Percent." British Medical Journal. Dec. 18, 2004, Vol. 329, pp. 1147-1150.
Abstract online: http://bmj.bmjjournals.com