Red yeast rice is a traditional Chinese medicine that has been purported to lower cholesterol. Several types of the extract are sold as supplements.
Red yeast rice may be appealing because it’s “natural,” but you need to be careful. Experts have not studied it extensively. The ideal dosing and long-term safety are unclear. It could be dangerous for some people. And because the ingredients of different brands of red yeast rice extract might vary so much, it’s hard to make firm statements about its effectiveness or safety.
What Is Red Yeast Rice (Monascus)?
Red yeast rice is a substance that’s extracted from rice that’s been fermented with a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus. It’s been used in China and other Asian countries for centuries as a traditional medicine. It’s also used as a food coloring, additive, and preservative.
Red yeast rice naturally contains several ingredients that may help control cholesterol levels. These include a number of monacolins, most importantly monacolin K. It also contains sterols, isoflavones, and monounsaturated fatty acids, or “healthy fats.”
Is Red Yeast Rice a Drug or a Supplement?
Confusingly, the answer is both. One of the most important ingredients in red yeast rice is monacolin K. It’s also known as lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor.
This confusion extends to how the supplement is sold in the U.S. Because red yeast rice contains a substance classified as a prescription drug, the FDA has attempted to control its sale. In 2007, the FDA asked that three red yeast rice products — Cholestrix by Sunburst Organics and two red yeast rice formulations by Swanson Healthcare Products (Red Yeast Rice and Red Yeast Rice/Policosonal Complex) — be withdrawn from the market because they contained lovastatin. The FDA cited a risk of severe muscle problems that could lead to kidney disease.
Despite the FDA’s attempts, many people in the U.S. still manage to get similar red yeast rice extracts from other countries or the Internet.
Studies have shown that red yeast rice can significantly lower levels of total cholesterol and specifically LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. One showed that taking 2.4 grams per day of red yeast rice reduced LDL levels by 22% and total cholesterol by 16% in 12 weeks. Another study showed that taking 1.2 grams per day lowered LDL levels by 26% in just eight weeks.
However, the studies of red yeast rice have so far been fairly small and didn’t last long enough to reveal the long-term effects.
What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before taking Red Yeast Rice (Monascus purpureus)?
Do not take red yeast rice if you are allergic to it, or if you have a history of liver disease.
Before taking red yeast rice, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, herbalist, or other healthcare provider. You may not be able to use this product if you have:
- kidney disease
- a serious infection, disease, or medical condition
- if you are pregnant
- if you have recently had surgery or an organ transplant; or
- if you drink more than 2 alcoholic beverages per day
Some cholesterol-lowering medications can cause a condition that results in the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, leading to kidney failure. Call a doctor at once if you have unexplained muscle pain or tenderness, muscle weakness, fever or flu symptoms, and dark colored urine.
Do not take red yeast rice without telling your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during treatment. Red yeast rice may be harmful to an unborn baby.
It is not known whether red yeast rice passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. Do not use this product without telling your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.
Do not give any herbal/health supplement to a child without the advice of a doctor.
Monascus purpureus mold or fungus, review of research studies, cholesterol drug combination
March 2 2014: Monascus purpureus is a species of mold that is purplish-red in color used to make red yeast rice and certain fermented foods in China and Japan. In Asian countries, red yeast rice is a dietary staple and is used to make rice wine, as a flavoring agent, and to preserve the flavor and color of fish and meat. There are other species of monascus, including monascus pilosus.
Composition of red yeast rice
Red yeast rice is a fermented product of rice on which red yeast Monascus purpureus has been grown. Red Yeast Rice contains several compounds collectively known as monacolins which block the formation of cholesterol. One of these compounds is called monacolin K. It inhibits HMG-CoA reductase and is also known as mevinolin or lovastatin. The product name for lovastatin is Mevacor, a prescription drug manufactured by Merck and Co..
Monascus purpureus fermented rice and prostate cancer cells
Chinese red yeast rice versus lovastatin effects on prostate cancer cells with and without androgen receptor overexpression.
J Med Food. 2008: Chinese red yeast rice, a food herb made by fermenting Monascus purpureus Went yeast on white rice, contains a mixture of eight different monacolins that inhibit cholesterol formation and also red pigments with antioxidant properties. Monacolin K is identical to lovastatin. Both lovastatin and red yeast rice contain statins, which could inhibit de novo cholesterol formation, which is critical to the growth of tumor cells. Our results suggest that the red yeast rice matrix beyond monacolin alone may be bioactive in inhibiting androgen-dependent and -independent prostate cancer growth. In vivo studies are needed to further establish the potential advantages of red yeast rice over lovastatin in prostate cancer chemoprevention and in the prevention of the emergence of androgen independence.
Monascus purpureus fermented rice and bone health
Chinese red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus fermented rice) promotes bone formation.
Chin Med. 2008. Statin can induce the gene expression of bone morphogenetic protein-2. Red yeast rice (Hongqu), i.e. rice fermented with Monascus purpureus, contains a natural form of statin. This study demonstrates the effects of Red yeast rice extract on bone formation. Red yeast rice extract stimulated new bone formation in bone defects in vivo and increased bone cell formation in vitro.
Isolation and Structural Characterization of Two New Metabolites from Monascus.
J Agric Food Chem. 2009.: Two new pale yellow metabolites have been isolated from commercially available Chinese food additive Red Monascus Pigment and from Monascus ruber culture broth. They were isolated by successive TLC and semipreparative HPLC. Their structural characterization was elucidated by a variety of spectroscopic techniques and mass spectrometry. These two new metabolites present numerous similarities with monascorubrin and rubropunctatin. The new compounds, named monarubrin and rubropunctin, contain a propenyl group on a pyrone ring, an alkyl side chain, but no gamma-lactone ring. The new metabolites have the property of producing strong blue fluorescence at 340 nm.
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