Red Yeast Rice and Cholesterol - Be Careful

by Dr. S on November 15th, 2009

Many individuals use red yeast rice as an alternative to statin drugs for lowering LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides. However, a brief description and word of caution are warranted.

Red yeast rice has been around for centuries, first described in ancient Chinese writing as early as 800 AD. Red yeast rice has been used in Asian cuisine and medicine.

The rice is cultivated with Monacus purpureus (mold) giving it a red color. The mold produces various substances called monacolins one of which is lovastatin. Lovastatin produces cholesterol-lowering effects by inhibiting HMG CoA reductase, an enzyme necessary for cholesterol synthesis. Lovastatin is the active ingredient in Mevacor, a statin drug manufactured by Merck and Co only available through Rx.

Since it is considered a dietary supplement, it is not regulated. Therefore, the amount of lovastatin in each product will vary. Taking too little will have negligible cholesterol-lowering effects, and taking too much can cause mild side effects such as stomach upset or nausea, bloating , gas , heartburn and indigestion .

Some individuals develop muscle pain and weakness especially in the calf muscles. An unlikely, yet very serious condition called rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of skeletal muscle) has been reported. The rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle releases myoglobin (protein) into the blood, which causes kidney damage and if untreated, can lead to kidney failure. Individuals with this condition will have muscle pain and weakness, and dark colored urine.

Taking red yeast rice with niacin, or various drugs like gemifibrozol, clofibrate, erythromycin, cyclosporine, and statin drugs can exacerbate the above noted side effects as well cause liver toxicity.

Some red yeast rice products contain citrinin, a mycotoxin that can also cause kidney damage. Most pharmaceutical grade red yeast rice supplements remove this impurity.

So, how do you know if your red yeast rice is safe? Since dietary supplements are not regulated, some manufactures make false or unsubstantiated claims. Therefore, trusting label claims is risky business.

Ask your healthcare provider for his or her recommendation or the name of a pharmaceutical grade product as well as usage instructions. Have your liver enzymes and blood fats monitored while taking this supplement, and pay attention to any adverse side effects.

Bottom Line: unless you are one of those unfortunate few that genetically produces too much cholesterol, keeping your levels within optimum levels is best achieved through proper diet and exercise. Reducing high-glycemic carbohydrates and alcohol intake is also very beneficial.
  • On a side note: cholesterol is more important than you can imagine. It has vital functions in the body such as maintaining cell membrane structure and integrity especially in brain and nervous tissue, maintains cell membrane fluidity, precursor to steroid hormones like progesterone estrogen and testosterone, precursor to vitamin D3 synthesis, and necessary for bile acid production. Therefore, lowering cholesterol in general may prove more detrimental than beneficial. Small dense LDL-cholesterol particles are prone to oxidation and these can cause coronary artery inflammation and disease.
  • There's so much more about cholesterol in The Naked Truth: Overweight, Overwhelmed and Confused.
  • Yours for better health
  • Dr. S

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with cholesterol, red yeast rice, lovastatin


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