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Red yeast rice has been used as a food additive and medicine in parts of Asia for centuries. It's a substance extracted from rice that has been fermented with special yeast.

Why Do People Take Red Yeast Rice?

Several studies have shown good evidence that red yeast rice can significantly lower total and LDL -- "bad" -- cholesterol. One component of red yeast rice, monacolin K, is similar to the active ingredient of some of the cholesterol lowering drugs called statins. Red yeast rice does not seem to be as effective as most conventional statin drugs, however. But these supplements may be a good choice for people who could benefit from only a slight lowering of cholesterol.

There are other traditional medicinal uses of red yeast rice: to reduce swelling and digestion problems, and to treat cuts and wounds, cancer, and other conditions. These uses of red yeast rice, however, have not been tested scientifically.

How Much Red Yeast Rice Should I Take?

Doctors haven't established a set dosage for red yeast rice. Quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it very hard to establish a standard dose. 

If you are interested in adding red yeast rice to your diet, talk to your health care provider first.

Can I Get Red Yeast Rice From My Diet?

No. Red yeast rice does not occur naturally in other foods.

What Are the Risks of Taking Red Yeast Rice?

  • Side effects. Red yeast rice side effects are usually mild. It might cause headaches and upset stomach. Not much is known about the long-term safety of red yeast rice. Since red yeast rice contains naturally occurring components which are very similar to statin medications, the same side effects may occur, including but not limited to muscle pain and liver injury.
  • Interactions. Do not take red yeast rice if you are using statins, drugs that suppress the immune system, antifungal drugs, certain antibiotics, or protease inhibitors (for HIV). People taking red yeast rice should avoid grapefruits. Also, alcohol may increase the risk of liver damage from red yeast rice.
  • Risks. People with liver disease, kidney disease, and allergies to fungus or yeast should not use red yeast rice. People with very high cholesterol, diabetes, or a high risk of heart attack or stroke may also need a more powerful prescription drug like a statin instead of red yeast rice.

Given the lack of evidence about its safety, red yeast rice is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

 

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