Research Breakthrough: Red Yeast Rice Is an Effective Alternative to Statins
Finally, the hard clinical evidence we’ve been waiting for, confirming the cholesterol-lowering benefits of red yeast rice, has surfaced in one of the nation’s most prestigious medical journals. The results of a breakthrough clinical trial reported this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicate that red yeast rice supplements may indeed be a viable, natural alternative to cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Best of all, red yeast rice does not seem to cause the side effects that are problematic for many statin users.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine followed 62 individuals with high cholesterol for 24 weeks. All of the subjects had recently stopped taking a statin drug due to unpleasant side effects such as muscle pain. Half of the subjects received red yeast rice supplements and the other half received placebos. Additionally, all 62 patients were given counseling on how to make dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol. The results: Thanks to proper diet and exercise, all patients saw a reduction in their cholesterol levels. However, the patients taking the red yeast rice had a 21% greater reduction in their LDL (bad cholesterol) levels after just three months! Furthermore, all but three patients reported no adverse side effects associated with their use of red yeast rice, despite their previous intolerance to statin drugs! These results parallel those of another study we reported on last year. Those researchers found that red yeast rice in combination with fish oil reduced LDL levels by 42.4% and resulted in a greater reduction in triglycerides when compared to a group taking a common statin drug.
However, these research findings do not come devoid of controversy. Many health officials have called into question the safety of red yeast rice products due to the lack of FDA oversight with regard to over-the-counter dietary supplements. They caution that this may make it difficult to know with certainty the contents of a given product. Some have warned that the amounts of monacolins — the cholesterol-lowering, statin-like compounds naturally occurring in red yeast rice — may vary among products. Further complicating the matter is the long and convoluted history of the FDA’s attempts to require manufacturers to remove a naturally occurring compound, lovastatin, from red yeast rice products. This compound, originally isolated from a strain of yeast, went from being a natural remedy used in Eastern medicine for centuries, to the first FDA approved statin drug in 1987. The FDA’s well-meaning, albeit misguided efforts to protect consumers from supplements containing what is considered a regulated drug, have been the source of great confusion among many health seekers in search of a safe, natural alternative to statin drugs.
While the FDA and health officials puzzle over just what to do with these new study findings, you might be wondering whether red yeast rice is an option for you, especially if you want to avoid or stop taking a statin drug due to its side effects. If you do decide to give red yeast rice a try, it’s important to keep your doctor in the know. Because they work in a very similar manner, red yeast rice and statins should not be used concurrently. Learn more about how to use red yeast rice safely before you make the switch, if you decide to.
It’s very important to purchase red yeast rice from a company you trust, to ensure that you are getting a safe and effective product. It should be tested and guaranteed to be free of heavy metals, pesticides and specifically, a contaminant known as citrinin, which was once found in certain red yeast rice products.
Source: Becker D, et al “Red yeast rice for dyslipidemia in statin-intolerant patients” Ann Intern Med. 2009; 150: 830-39.
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Article updated on: June 19th, 2009