Fish Oil, Red Yeast Rice Cut Cholesterol
Supplements, Lifestyle Change Work as Well as Cholesterol-Lowering Medications in Small Study
July 23, 2008 -- Supplements of fish oil and red yeast rice, coupled with lifestyle changes in diet and exercise habits, can reduce cholesterol as much as standard cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins, according to a new study.
But the study's lead author, David J. Becker, MD, a cardiologist at Chestnut Hill Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, emphasizes that the alternative approach is not for everyone.
"Statins remain the primary and best treatment for people with high cholesterol, especially if you have known coronary disease," Becker tells WebMD. The study evaluated only people with high cholesterol who did not yet have coronary disease.
"If you are someone dead set against taking a statin, this may be an attractive option, assuming you are willing to make the lifestyle changes," Becker says.
"This is one of the first studies that has shown there is some promise here," he says, referring to the alternative approach with supplements instead of statins.
Finding alternatives to medication for lowering cholesterol is important, he says, because studies show as many as 40% of people who get a statin prescription are believed to take it for less than a year.
Supplements vs. Statins: Study Details
Becker and his colleagues studied 74 people with high cholesterol. Half took the statin drug Zocor and the other half took fish oil and red yeast rice supplements. They were followed for 12 weeks.
Red yeast rice is the product of yeast grown on rice and includes several compounds that hinder production of cholesterol in the body. Fish oil has been shown to lower the blood fats known as triglycerides. The study was funded by the state of Pennsylvania and is published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The medication group took 40 milligrams of Zocor daily and received traditional counseling in the form of handouts on diet and exercise.
The supplement group took three fish oil capsules twice daily. In addition, those with an LDL cholesterol higher than 160 mg/dL took 3.6 grams of red yeast rice daily, divided into two doses. If the initial LDL level was 160 or less, they took 2.4 grams of red yeast rice daily, divided into two doses.
The supplement group also attended weekly meetings and was taught about lifestyle changes by a cardiologist and a dietitian. The group was urged to follow a modified Mediterranean diet, limiting fat intake to less than 25% of daily total calories, and to exercise for 30 to 45 minutes five to six times a week.