Red yeast rice is rice that has been fermented by the red yeast, monascus purpureus. It has been used by the Chinese for many centuries as a food preservative, food colorant (it is responsible for the red color of Peking duck), spice, and ingredient in rice wine. Red yeast rice continues to be a dietary staple in China, Japan, and Asian communities in the United States, with an estimated average consumption of 14 to 55 grams of red yeast rice per day per person.
Red yeast rice also has been used in China for over 1,000 years for medicinal purposes. Red yeast rice was described in an ancient Chinese list of drugs as useful for improving blood circulation and for alleviating indigestion and diarrhea.
Recently, red yeast rice has been developed by Chinese and American scientists as a product to lower blood lipids, including cholesterol and triglycerides.
Since 800 A.D., red yeast rice has been employed by the Chinese as both a food and a medicinal agent. Its therapeutic benefits as both a promoter of blood circulation and a digestive stimulant were first noted in the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia, Ben Cao Gang Mu-Dan Shi Bu Yi, during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine use red yeast rice to treat abdominal pain due to stagnant blood and dysentery, as well as external and internal trauma. In addition to its therapeutic applications, red yeast rice has been used for centuries as a flavor enhancer, a food preservative, and a base for a Taiwanese alcoholic rice-wine beverage.
In 2001 the FDA banned the sale of the most popular brand of red yeast rice extract, because one of its components (lovastatin) was already a patented drug when it came on the market. The same product now sold does not contain any lovastatin. You can still obtain red yeast rice that contains the cholesterol-lowering extract in some European countries, and other brands of red rice yeast extract are still sold in the U.S. Because supplements are unregulated and the demand for quality ingredients is growing, some products will not actually contain any red rice yeast extract and will be ineffective. If you don’t get satisfactory results, you can always switch to a better-quality brand or even to a prescribed statin.
Red Yeast Rice Benefits
Effect on Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Of all the natural supplements available to help lower cholesterol, red rice yeast extracts are the most effective. Red rice yeast is a source of naturally occurring statins, and because it delivers a mix of those compounds rather than a single molecule, it is less likely to cause side effects that can occur with pharmaceutical versions. Taking red yeast rice can help reduce and maintain healthy cholesterol levels and promote blood circulation, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease.
Studies have shown that red yeast rice can significantly lower levels of total cholesterol and specifically LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. One showed that taking 2.4 grams per day of red yeast rice reduced LDL levels by 22% and total cholesterol by 16% in 12 weeks. Another study showed that taking 1.2 grams per day lowered LDL levels by 26% in just eight weeks.
In Chinese medicine, red yeast rice is used to promote blood circulation, soothe upset stomach, and invigorate the function of the spleen, a body organ that destroys old blood cells and filters foreign substances. In addition, this dietary supplement has been used traditionally for bruised muscles, indigestion, and colic in infants. Recently, it has been discovered that red yeast rice contains substances that are similar to prescription medications that lower cholesterol. There is also growing interest in evaluating red yeast rice for use as a natural food dye and/or preservative.
How Red Yeast Rice Works
While a majority of the body’s cholesterol is produced in the liver, red yeast rice has been shown to effectively restrict the livers’ production. However, this herbal compound also contains a variety of ingredients and active constituents that have been shown in studies to impart healthful cholesterol benefits. One active constituent, monacolin K, may effectively stop a key liver enzyme from producing cholesterol. A study published in 1997 in the journal Current Therapeutic Research found that men and women taking 13.5 mg total monacolins (about 1.2 grams) of concentrated red yeast rice daily for two months showed significant decreases in serum (blood) cholesterol levels. A UCLA School of Medicine clinical trial found that supplementation of about 10 mg total monacolins (2.4 grams) daily of red yeast rice for 12 weeks significantly decreased total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, as well as triglycerides in a sample of people with elevated cholesterol.
Another cholesterol-boosting ingredient in red yeast rice, the compound known as mevinolin, has also been shown to offer antioxidant properties. In addition, the cholesterol benefits of red yeast rice may be due to its large amounts of such ingredients as fiber, rice starch, sterols, and fatty acids, all of which have been shown to decrease harmful levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, while also raising levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
In addition to rice starch, protein, fiber, sterols, and fatty acids, red yeast rice contains numerous active constituents, including monacolin K, dihydromonacolin, and monacolin I to VI.
Researchers have determined that one of the ingredients in red yeast rice, called monacolin K, inhibits the production of cholesterol by stopping the action of a key enzyme in the liver ( HMG-CoA reductase) that is responsible for manufacturing cholesterol. The drug lovastatin (Mevacor®) acts in a similar fashion to this red yeast rice ingredient. However, the amount per volume of monacolin K in red yeast rice is small (0.2% per 5 mg) when compared to the 20–40 mg of lovastatin available as a prescription drug. This has prompted researchers to suggest that red yeast rice may have other ingredients, such as sterols, that might also contribute to lowering cholesterol.
Red Yeast Rice Side Effects
The most common side effects of prescribed statin drugs are headache, digestive upset, liver dysfunction and muscle pain. These last two problems can be serious, but statins are well tolerated by most people, and serious side effects are rare. Red rice yeast supplements can cause the same side effects in sensitive people, but is less than with the purified prescription compounds.
Other rare side effects include:
- Stomach ache and/or bloating
It is recommend that anyone who takes statins or red rice yeast extract supplements for cholesterol control should also take 90 to 120 mg of coenzyme Q10 every day, since these drugs inhibit the body’s natural synthesis of CoQ10, needed for formation of ATP, our bodies’ energy currency.
No matter what supplement or drug you use for cholesterol control, be sure to get at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise and reduce the amount of saturated fat and trans fats in your diet. Other beneficial lifestyle changes include drinking green tea, consuming more soluble fiber foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of leafy greens and fresh fruits.
What Is The Present Status of Red Yeast Rice?
Small scale studies using pharmaceutical-grade red rice yeast have continued to demonstrate efficacy and safety. However, in the United States it is no longer legal to sell supplements of red yeast rice that contain more than trace amounts of cholesterol lowering substances. For example, the active ingredients of red rice yeast have been removed from red yeast rice products marketed in the United States. (Hypocol, another product containing red yeast rice is no longer being sold in the United States.)
While many Americans are popping risky and expensive statin drugs, the FDA fought to block the sale of this perfectly safe, natural food source of powerful cholesterol-lowering statin on grounds of safety concerns.
According to wikipedia: “The FDA also issued a warning press release (see Further Reading; FDA 2007). The crux of the release was that consumers should “…not buy or eat red yeast rice products…may contain an unauthorized drug that could be harmful to health.” The rationale for “…harmful to health…” was that consumers might not understand that the dangers of monacolin-containing red yeast rice might be the same as those of prescription statin drugs.”
But not only did studies show that red yeast rice containing lovastatin slashed cholesterol an average of 40 points in just 3 months, it did so while demonstrating efficacy and safety.
So was this natural products banned because the pharmaceutical industry were about to lose billions of dollars?
However, what did the drug executives do?
They went to court — then called the FDA.
Their ‘grounds’ for suing? The targeted company’s red yeast rice extract contained a natural form of lovastatin, the same active ingredient found in patented Mevacor, one of the major cholesterol drugs.
The first time the drug companies took the red yeast rice maker to court, however, the judge quite rightly threw the case out (indicating a belief that God owns the patent on natural substances). But after appealing the case on the grounds that the FDA hadn’t officially ratified their natural competition’s cholesterol-control claims, they got their verdict.
And with one stroke of the gavel, the company offering a safe, natural, un-patent-able solution for managing cholesterol suddenly found itself in violation of Federal law simply for claiming the truth: That its red yeast rice product lowered cholesterol by using the exact same substance prescription drug makers have patented and marked-up many times more.
When the decision was handed down, the FDA quickly banned the best known, most proven source of cholesterol-lowering red yeast rice extract–before its makers could regroup and file an appeal or suit of their own. Of course, red yeast rice itself can still be bought from many sources (and it’s still a good idea for cholesterol control).
However, while FDA may have banned the cholesterol lowering substance in red yeast rice food, red yeast rice extract in supplemental form is still available and unregulated by the FDA.
Red Yeast Rice Reviews
The following reviews have been selected:
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific product, November 3, 2010
N. Brian (West Virginia)
My doctor had been pushing lipitor and other cholestorol products for years which I refused because of the side effects. I told him I would try red rice yeast and if it didn’t work I would considered his recommendations. I decided to try Now red rice yeast because of the reviews. I had an appointment to go back in six months for blood tests which I did. My doctor was floored by the results and wanted to know what I was using because it had outdone anything he had prescribed. I’m happy because I have not experienced any side effects and he’s happy because I’m controlling my cholestorol. I can HIGHLY RECOMMEND… Red Rice Yeast!!!!
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Seems to be helping with cholesterol reduction, September 30, 2010
Vintner Don … (Minneapolis)
I had an annual cholesterol test, and it was high as it always is. The doctor warned me again that the meds I take will harm my liver, and liver test also was elevated. I had to find a way to lower the levels. I started taking both Chitosan and Red Yeast Rice. After 3 months, I had another blood test done. After I have been taking this combination for just 3 months, my cholesterol had dropped 40 points. I have had only one test since starting the supplements, so can not say for sure if it was a fluke, or if it truly does reduce the cholesterol level. I do believe it is helping. This was my second batch of supplements, and until I find that my blood test proves differently, I will continue to take this combination. Your results may differ from mine.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Best product for high cholesterol, July 29, 2010
Larry (Lilburn, Georgia United States)
I had been taking these caps for about three weeks. I went to the Dr. for blood work. When the results came back he asked me if I was drinking red wine with dinner. Because the good cholesterol was at the right level and the bad was coming down. I figure by taking these caps everyday as suggested, I don’t have to use the statins that give you all kinds of side effects. It will be good to see with another blood test after 6 months.
5.0 out of 5 stars Helping with cholesterol, November 22, 2011
I have been using this product for only two months. My cholesterol numbers have dropped 15%. I intend to continue to use this product with the hope of dropping those numbers a little more. I also have been eating about 1/2 (dry measured) oatmeal per day with about 1 tablespoon of oatbran. When I got my latest results, my doctor advised me to continue with the medication he prescribed. I never took the medication, but did what I wrote above. So, my dropped numbers prove to me that this product (and the oatmeal?) is a natural way to drop cholesterol numbers. Give it a try!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Super Product, A great merchant, December 5, 2009
Excellent product. I have been using the supplement for a few years and have always gotten good results. It has been checked out by my local natural medicine agent and she gave it a thumbs up.
5.0 out of 5 stars Cholesterol and Triglyceride lowering benefits, January 19, 2012
wingmate (Napa, California)
Since I was reluctant to take prescription drugs to lower my cholesterol, almost five years ago my doctor recommended… Red Yeast Rice tablets. My cholesterol had averaged about 200 for over 20 years (annual blood work) and my triglyceride count 63. Since beginning to take this product, my cholesterol has averaged 156 and my triglyceride 52. My LDL fell from an average of 143 to 94. My HDL was unaffected and remains at 51. I have suffered no side effects whatsoever and all my other blood work has remained stable. I have made no other changes to my diet or exercise routine. I highly recommend people check with their doctor and consider taking this product.
5.0 out of 5 stars I hesitate… but…, October 12, 2011
This stuff did quite a good job for me. 6 months ago I tested at 231 with HDL at 50, Tris at 61, and LDL at 169! After 6 months of taking this product fairly regularly–I did not take it with me on vacations, and missed occasional weekends and such–my numbers are very much improved. I just visited my doctor and my total is 164, HDL is up to 52, Tris at 90, and LDL at 94.
In addition to these, I exercise casually and eat fairly well. I also eat a lot of almonds and walnuts, which are beneficial. I also eat CoQ10, which is important.
I took 2 in the evening, as the bottle says. Now I think I’ll go to one in the eve to maintain these numbers.