As someone who has high cholesterol, I’m always on the lookout for new information that might help me eliminate this risk factor for heart disease. I’m not exactly lazy but it certainly would be nice to come across a magic bullet that would help for those days when I can’t seem to eat quite right or manage to make that 30-minute workout happen.
I don’t know about you, but I personally dislike taking drugs unless it’s absolutely necessary so anytime I can find something natural with a potential to produce results, then I want to know more. My journey for information this week led me to an article about Red Rice Yeast and its benefits in lowering cholesterol. I’ve never heard of Red Rice Yeast so “Inquiring Mary” wanted to know more.
What Is Red Rice Yeast?
Red Rice Yeast is fermented from Monascus purpureus or red yeast, hence the name. It’s been used by the Chinese for centuries for multiple purposes including: food preservative, food coloring (Ever wondered why Peking Duck is red?), spice, and as an ingredient in rice wine. Chinese medicine also uses Red Rice Yeast to improve blood circulation and to relieve indigestion and diarrhea. More recently, researchers have been working with Red Rice Yeast on products to lower your blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides).
What are the Forms of Red Rice Yeast?
Red Rice Yeast comes in three different forms:
1. Zhitai – Produced by fermenting a mixture of several strains of Monascus purpureus and whole grain rice. It consists primarily of rice and yeast.
2. Cholestin or Hypocol – Produced by using a “proprietary” fermenting process (they are keeping this one a secret from us girls!) using “selected” strains of the Monascus purpureus yeast. This proprietary process, combined with the selected strains of Monascus purpureus produce Monacolin K. Monacolin K was first discovered in 1977 by Professor Endo from Japan. This is the ingredient that researchers believe is the cholesterol lowering mechanism. It is believed to inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, which is an enzyme necessary to produce cholesterol. Monacolin K is the active ingredient in Lovastatin (Mevacor) which is a statin drug used to lower cholesterol.
3. Xuezhikang – The process for making Xuezhikang is somewhat different than Zhitai and Cholestin. The rice and red yeast are mixed with alcohol and then processed. This additional step removes all of the rice gluten from the product. The end result is that Xuezhikang contains more (40%) of the cholesterol lowering agent than either Zhitai or Cholestin.
Is It Safe?
The actual ingredients in Cholestin appear to be safe. An analysis of Cholestin by scientists at Pharmanex and the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition found that Cholestin contains the following: starch (73%), protein (5.8%), moisture (3%-6%), unsaturated fatty acids (1.5%), monacolins (0.4%), ash (3%), and trace amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and copper. In addition, Cholestin was found to have no toxic substances, citrinic acid or other heavy metals, preservatives or additives.
Unlike statins, which can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as muscle toxicity, animal studies conducted in China reported no damage. Human studies also reported no liver and kidney damage. The most commonly reported side effect in human trials has been indigestion or heartburn.
Because Red Rice Yeast has been used in food by Asians for thousands of years without reports of toxicity, most believe that it is safe to use.
Is It Effective?
Preliminary findings indicate that it is effective. Multiple Chinese studies on the use of Zhitai and Xuezhikang reported an overall reduction in total cholesterol (10-30% less on average). A 1999 study by the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition found that Cholestin reduced total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels. (Note: This study also reported that it had no effect on HDL cholesterol.)
The Annuals of Internal Medicine recently published results from a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on the use of Red Rice Yeast with patients who are not able to tolerate statins. They reported that the participants receiving Red Rice Yeast had “significantly” lower LDL and total cholesterol than those who received a placebo. It was also indicated that Red Rice Yeast could be a cholesterol treatment option for those who can’t tolerate statins.
The good news is that trials appear to indicate that Red Rice Yeast is beneficial to you and would help in lowering cholesterol. Before anyone runs out to purchase Cholestin, you need to know that the Cholestin you buy in the United State is NOT going to be the same formula that is marketed and available overseas. Why? The FDA has made it illegal in the United States to market the active ingredient in Red Rice Yeast in the United States in anything other than “trace” amounts. As a result, the products sold in the US will have all of the good cholesterol lowering agents removed.
Why would the FDA do this? Well, the FDA is charged with keeping us safe from the snake-oil-salesmen in medicine. Their reasons for outlawing the use of Red Rice Yeast in the US are as follows:
1. Since statins cause damage to the liver, kidneys and muscles, the FDA is afraid that someone might supplement their statins with Red Rice Yeast and inadvertently increase their risk of damage.
2. The FDA also claims that any product containing a high enough level of the cholesterol lowering agent in Red Rice Yeast to be beneficial would be a drug and is therefore not allowed without clinical trials, testing, etc.
So, the good news is that if you are one of our sisters overseas, you have an alternative and may want to checkout Cholestin or Hypocol and see if it would be beneficial to you in lowering your cholesterol. The bad news for our U.S. sisters is that we can’t get it now. If it becomes available later, it would more than likely be in the form of another statin drug rather than a natural form. What to do in the meantime? I don’t know about you but I think I’ll go add Peking Duck to my diet! It couldn’t hurt!
Until next time, here’s wishing you a healthy heart.
(Disclaimer: I am not a physician and nothing in this article should be construed as giving medical advice. As with any medical decision, please consult your physician.)
Lee, Dennis MD and Marks, Jay W., MD, Red Rice Yeast and Cholesterol, MedicineNet.com, http://www.medicinenet.com/red_yeast_rice_and_cholesterol/article.htmMedical
Mark Hyman, M.D., Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease Without Drugs, 26 Sept 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/lower-your-risk-of-heart_b_300292.html
Becker DJ, Gordon RY, Halbert SC, French B, Morris PB, Rader DJ. Red yeast rice for dyslipidemia in statin-intolerant patients: a randomized trial, Ann Intern Med. 2009 Jun 16;150(12):830-9, W147-9. http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/short/150/12/830