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Cholesterol & Triglycerides Health Center

Fish Oil, Red Yeast Rice Cut Cholesterol

Supplements, Lifestyle Change Work as Well as Cholesterol-Lowering Medications in Small Study
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WebMD Health News

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.

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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