Red yeast rice is a dietary supplement that is produced by fermenting yeast on red rice. Practitioners of Chinese medicine use this herbal supplement to help treat a variety of health concerns. The fermenting process produces chemicals that are similar to those found in common medications used to lower cholesterol.
Red yeast rice products can vary by type and chemical composition, so they do not all work similarly. Some are chemically similar to statins, which are medications known to help lower cholesterol. Other strains may contain these chemicals or contain them at lower levels.
Red yeast rice offers various health benefits for people who take it. Among them include:
One of the primary uses for red yeast rice is to lower cholesterol. The chemicals found in red yeast rice lower the amounts of "bad" cholesterol (also known as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL) in the body by lowering its production in the liver.
After you eat, LDL cholesterol inside your food gathers with other substances in your body’s blood vessels. If too much collects, it can lead to heart attack or stroke. However, the liver makes LDL cholesterol too.
LDL isn’t all bad, though. It does help your body make cells and hormones. Still, it’s best to keep the amount of LDL cholesterol low to help your overall heart health.
Lowers Stroke Risk
Since red yeast rice helps to lower cholesterol, it can also decrease your chances of having a stroke. Low cholesterol reduces the risk of developing dangerous blood clots, which can break and cause strokes and heart attacks. Red yeast rice can also reduce your risk of other diseases caused by high blood pressure, like chest pain (angina) and heart failure.
Improves Blood Circulation
Plaques in blood vessels also clog arteries and reduce circulation. Red yeast rice has been shown to help improve circulation, allowing wounds to heal more quickly and letting your body function at its best. Even those who don’t have plaque buildup in their blood vessels can benefit from better circulation, since the muscles and organs get more oxygen when blood is flowing well.
While red yeast rice has been shown to be beneficial, there are some potential health risks. Red yeast rice and other herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, it can be difficult to figure out which product you are getting, and if your supplement contains a high level of the chemicals that can aid in lowering cholesterol.
Since red yeast rice is similar in structure to drugs that are commonly used to treat high cholesterol, the supplement can also mimic the side effects. The primary component in red yeast rice is called monacolin K, and it can cause stomach upset, bloating, muscle aches, and weakness.
If you have a condition that makes it dangerous to take traditional cholesterol medication, it’s best to talk to your doctor before taking red yeast rice supplements.
Herbal supplements don’t have regulations or manufacturing protocols, so there is no guarantee that the supplement you are taking has a certain level of the component that helps lower cholesterol. It could have high levels, or it could have close to none. The label usually won’t say whether a particular supplement has monacolin K, and it won’t specify the amount.
If you are taking certain medications, they can interact with red yeast rice. Some medications and other supplements, such as St. John’s Wort (used to treat depression), may not work as well if you’re taking red yeast rice. Others can increase the likelihood of side effects with either the red yeast rice or the drug with which it is reacting. Ask your doctor before starting the supplement, especially if you have liver or kidney disease.
Amounts and Dosage
As with other supplements, the typical daily dosage is high. Studies have evaluated the benefits of 600 milligrams taken two to four times a day for a total of 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams. Since there is no way of knowing how much of the beneficial chemical compounds are found in your supplement, it’s best to start off with a smaller dose and then have your cholesterol checked to see if it’s working.