Red Yeast Rice May Lower Cholesterol
Study Shows Supplement Reduces LDL Cholesterol Levels
June 17, 2009 -- By some estimates, as many as 10% of people who take cholesterol-lowering statins experience troubling muscle pain, and many stop taking the drugs because of it.
Now a new study suggests that a dietary supplement sold in nutrition centers and grocery stores may be a useful alternative to statins for some.
People who took red yeast rice supplements and completed a 12-week lifestyle intervention program experienced bigger reductions in LDL "bad" cholesterol than patients who completed the same lifestyle program but took placebo pills.
The study was small and the cholesterol reduction did not rival that typically seen in patients treated with high doses of statins like Crestor, Lipitor, Mevacor, and Zocor.
Differences in Concentrations of Red Yeast Rice
And the study authors caution that since nutritional supplements are not regulated in the same way that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are, consumers can't always be certain of the quantity and quality of the products they buy.
Study co-author Ram Y. Gordon, MD, tells WebMD that when his research team had 12 different brands analyzed, they found a 100-fold difference in the concentrations of red yeast rice.
Gordon cited a separate analysis of red yeast rice products, in which four of 12 contained a toxin known as citrinin, which can harm the kidneys.
"Most of the brands say they contain 600 milligrams of red yeast rice per capsule, but that may or may not be true," Gordon says. "Red yeast rice may have great potential for people who can't or won't take statins. However, until it is better regulated and has better oversight by the FDA, we can't recommend it."
Used medicinally by the Chinese for centuries, red yeast rice is derived from a fungus that grows on rice. It contains compounds collectively known as monacolins, which inhibit the formation of cholesterol. One monacolin called monacolin K is a natural form of statins. The researchers write that the dose of red yeast rice used in their study was equal to a daily dose of 6 milligrams a day of Mevacor. The usual dose of Mevacor for cholesterol treatment is 20 milligrams to 40 milligrams a day.