Red yeast rice is obtained by fermenting rice with red yeast known as Monascus purpureus. Red yeast has been widely used in China for preserving food, adding color to food, and as an ingredient in rice wine. It is commercially available in the form of powdered supplements, and also forms an important ingredient in several other supplements and food products.
The ability of red yeast rice to lower cholesterol comes from the presence of certain compounds which act like the statin drug, lovastatin.
Does Red Yeast Rice Help Lower Cholesterol?
Studies show that the level of LDL cholesterol was lower in people who regularly consumed the supplements of this product, as compared to those who used other supplements. In a research study conducted in China, people suffering from heart attacks were given extracts made from red yeast rice. These individuals experienced a reduced frequency of heart attacks, and the risk of death showed a fall of 50%.
Another study revealed a reduction in heart attacks by 45%. This was found in patients who took Xuezhikang (XZK, extract made from red yeast rice). The reduction was due to a cholesterol-lowering compounds called monacolins, present in the rice.
Fish oil supplement, when paired with red yeast rice, showed significant effects in lowering cholesterol. It increases the levels of HDL or good cholesterol in the body, as well as reduces the amount of triglycerides. Apart from being effective against cholesterol, the rice has also been used by the Chinese to treat abdominal pain. It was also used as a digestive stimulant, and to promote efficient lipid metabolism of the body.
Considerations and Side Effects
Red yeast rice may trigger side effects like dizziness, nausea, mild gastrointestinal upset, headache, indigestion, heartburn, bloating, and gas, as well as changes in liver enzymes. High dosage may lead to muscle and joint pain, inflammation of the liver, and damage to peripheral nerves. It may also lead to a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis, which involves the abnormal breakdown of muscle tissue, which may cause kidney failure.
Red yeast rice may interfere with certain antibiotics, protease inhibitors, and fibrates. It may lead to adverse reactions when consumed along with clarithromycin, erythromycin, diltiazem, fenofibrate, amprenavir, sildenafil, etc. Expectant and nursing mothers are not advised to take this product. It is also not recommended for people suffering from liver disorders, acute infections, and kidney diseases.
Although most people may benefit from red yeast rice, it is wise to consult a medical professional before resorting to the use of such extracts and supplements. One must remember, that such products cannot replace the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise.