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Fish Oil, Red Yeast Rice Cut Cholesterol

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

Supplements vs. Statins: Results

"We followed them for a three-month period," Becker says. At the study's end, the levels of bad cholesterol had declined nearly the same amount in both groups. "The LDL declined 42% in the supplement group and 39% in the Zocor group," Becker says.

The supplement group also lost an average of 10 pounds in 12 weeks, but there was no significant weight loss in the medication group. Triglyceride levels, while on average normal in both groups at the start, decreased by 29% in the supplement group but just 9.3% in the medication group -- a significant difference, Becker says.

"This homeopathic, natural approach in a group of people who do not have known coronary disease and who can make these kinds of exacting lifestyle changes may be worth exploring in longer and better studies," Becker tells WebMD.

Supplements vs. Statins: Second Opinion

The study results don't surprise Robert Eckel, MD, former president of the American Heart Association and a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver. The red yeast rice, he tells WebMD, works in much the same way as a statin.

"Fish oils don't affect LDL cholesterol," he says, but only triglycerides. And the participants' triglyceride levels, on average, were normal, he says, and did not need reduction.

If you are trying to lower cholesterol, he says, the first step is to see a doctor.

Supplements vs. Statins: Downsides & Caveats

Becker sees downsides to supplements over statins.

"The red yeast rice is an unregulated supplement," Becker says. He cites a recent report in which researchers found significant differences in the amount of red yeast rice in different brands of supplements.

In August 2007, the FDA warned against buying or eating specific red yeast rice products (Red Yeast Rice/Policosonal Complex by Swanson Healthcare Products, Inc., and Cholestrix) because they ''may contain an unauthorized drug that could be harmful." FDA testing had detected lovastatin, the active ingredient in Mevacor, a prescription drug for cholesterol lowering.

Red yeast rice sold in the U.S. typically comes in 600 milligram to 1,200 milligram doses, with recommendations of taking no more than 2,400 milligrams (2.4 grams) a day, the lower dose used in the study. Doses higher than this increase the risk of side effects similar to that of statin drugs, including muscle pain or tenderness, and possibly liver damage. Red yeast rice and statins work similarly in the body, so they should not be taken together, as this increases the chance of side effects.

For anyone who wants to try the alternative approach, Becker recommends talking with their doctor, having all recommended blood tests to make sure the approach is working, and checking for potential side effects.

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Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

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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