Red Yeast Rice to Lower Cholesterol: Does it Work?

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Red yeast rice is a staple in the diets of some Asian countries. It is a product of yeast grown on rice. It is used in Chinese medicine as a remedy for promoting blood circulation, lowering cholesterol and aiding in digestive problems. While it has been used in China for centuries, it has only been used in the United States for a short period of time and in that short time has generated much controversy. Before anyone decides to try this natural cholesterol-lowering remedy, they must talk to their health care provider.

Properties Associated with Lowering Cholesterol

Using red yeast rice to lower cholesterol is believed to have a lot to do with the compound monacolin K. This compound is a type of naturally occurring lovastatin, which happens to be the prescription drug Mevacor’s active ingredient. Monacolins, through various studies, have been shown to inhibit cholesterol formation. While monacolins are certainly the main focus when it comes to cholesterol-lowering benefits, red yeast rice also contains sterols, monounsaturated fatty acids (healthy fats) and isoflavones that are cardiovascular system healthy.

Amount Needed to be Taken

Those under 18 years of age should not use this natural remedy. At this time there has not been sufficient scientific studies to determine the effectiveness or safety for those in this age group.

In Asia, the average daily consumption of naturally occurring red yeast rice is said to be between 12 and 55 grams. However, in the United States, concentrated red yeast rice powder capsules are the general route of consumption. In general, it is recommended that people take 1,200 milligrams twice per day with food, by mouth. Of course, a person should also talk to their doctor first and only take the dose determined by his or her doctor.

Who Should Not Take Red Yeast Rice

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this natural remedy. This is because prescription drugs that contain chemicals similar to red yeast rice are prohibited during breastfeeding and pregnancy.

Little research has been done on the side effects of this natural remedy. Abdominal discomfort and mild headache are possible when using red yeast rice to lower cholesterol. Side effects may be similar to the prescription drug known as lovastatin. These may include heartburn, bloating, dizziness, kidney problems, gas, muscle damage or pain or asthma. Those with liver disease should avoid this natural remedy.

It is believed that this natural remedy could possibly increase bleeding risk. Because of this, those with bleeding disorders and those taking medications that could increase bleeding risk should only use this natural remedy under strict doctor supervision.

More side effects and dangers may be uncovered as more research on this natural remedy’s safety is conducted.

Studies

A variety of studies have been performed to determine if red yeast rice is effective in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. This natural remedy may also be effective in raising “good” cholesterol.

UCLA School of Medicine did a study involving 83 people who had high cholesterol. Those in the study who got the red yeast rice over 12 weeks ended up with substantially lower triglyceride and “bad” cholesterol levels when compared to those in the placebo group. Both groups have no change in “good” cholesterol levels.

A study, which was presented before the American Heart Association, had 187 participants with mild to moderate total and LDL cholesterol level elevations. This study concluded that when treated with red yeast rice, the participants experienced a 16 percent reduction in total cholesterol, a 21 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol and a 24 percent reduction in triglycerides. This same study also concluded that when treated with red yeast rice, the participants experienced a 14 percent increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

Another study of 446 people with high cholesterol that lasted eight weeks was performed. The results concluded that the red yeast rice group experienced a substantial reduction in cholesterol levels compared to the placebo group. When treated with red yeast rice, the participants experienced a 22.7 percent reduction in total cholesterol, a 31 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol and a 34 percent reduction in triglycerides. The same study also concluded that when treated with red yeast rice, the participants experienced a 20 percent increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

Resources

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2008). Red Yeast Rice. Retrieved on June 12, 2011 from the University of Maryland Medical Center: https://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/red-yearice-000323.htm

MedlinePlus. (2011). Red Yeast. Retrieved on June 12, 2011 from MedlinePlus: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/925.html

Mayo Clinic. (2011). Red Yeast Rice (Monascus Purpureus). Retrieved on June 12, 2011 from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-yeast-rice/NS_patient-redyeast