Many of my patients ask me whether they should take red yeast rice to lower their cholesterol. This week’s issue of The Medical Letter has a very handy review of red yeast rice which I summarize below.
Red yeast rice is a food that is produced by fermenting rice with a specific species of yeast. It has been used in Chinese cooking and medicine for centuries. It contains many molecules that are similar to statins, the family of medicines including Liptor, Zocor and Crestor. In fact one of its ingredients is lovastatin, the medication in Mevacor, the first statin approved in the US.
Statins have been repeatedly proven to prevent strokes and heart attacks, but statins also sometimes cause muscle or liver inflammation, a side effect also present in red yeast rice.
Because it is sold as a food supplement, not as a medication, the quantity of active ingredients in red yeast rice formulations is not standardized and varies widely.
The article concludes that red yeast rice has many of the benefits and side effects of statins but unlike statins, its ingredients are not standardized. The bottom line is that “generic lovastatin would be safer and cost less”.
The Medical Letter review of Red Yeast Rice (by subscription only)