Red Yeast Rice
- Hong Qu
- Monacolin K
Principal Proposed Uses
Other Proposed Uses
Red yeast rice is a traditional Chinese substance made by fermenting a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus over rice. Various formulations of this product have been used in China since at least 800 AD as a food and also as a medicinal substance within the context of Traditional Chinese Herbal medicine . This ancient preparation contains naturally occurring substances similar (and, in some cases, identical) to cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs in the “statin” family.
What Is Red Yeast Rice Used for Today?
Red yeast rice is thought to be effective for lowering cholesterol, presumably because of its statin constituents. There is evidence to support this use. An 8-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 83 people with high cholesterol evaluated red yeast rice. 1 At the end of the 8-week treatment period, levels of total cholesterol decreased significantly in the red yeast rice group as compared to the placebo group. Benefits were also seen in LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides as well. No significant differences were noted in HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels from baseline or between groups. In an 8-week study of 79 people, use of red yeast rice was noted to improve the LDL/HDL ratio, along with several other measures of cardiac risk. 9,11 In a carefully conducted review of 93 randomized trials involving almost 10,000 patients, researchers concluded that red yeast rice can significantly lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, and raise levels of HDL compared with placebo. 13 Similarly, in a subsequent review of 22 trials, researchers concluded that an alcohol extract of red yeast rice (called xuezhikang) was no more or less effective than statins in lowering levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol and/or high triglycerides. 19 They also found that the supplement may be more effective than inositol nicotinate (another cholesterol-lowering medication) in reducing cholesterol levels. A double-blind study performed in China compared an alcohol extract of red yeast rice (xuezhikang) against placebo in almost 5,000 people with heart disease. 10 Over a 4-year study period, use of the supplement reportedly reduced heart attack rate by about 45% as compared to placebo, and total mortality by about 35%. However, these levels of reported benefit are so high as to raise questions about the study’s reliability. At least 3 other studies, all from this same original population of participants, have found similar results in diabetics with heart disease 14 and in patients with previous heart attack, 15,16 with surprisingly large reductions in the rates of coronary events (eg, heart attack) and mortality. These levels of reported benefit, however, are so high and so similar as to raise questions about their reliability. Because red yeast rice is essentially a drug supplied by a natural product, and this drug has many potential side effects , we suggest that it should be used only under physician supervision.