Red Yeast Rice Shown to Lower Cholesterol

Red yeast rice, the fermented product of red yeast that is grown on polished white rice, is known to lower cholesterol levels; it is also beneficial in heart disease. This study was designed to investigate the effects of a red yeast rice product on blood lipids and on glycosylated hemoglobin, plasma glucose and C-reactive protein, or indicators of high cholesterol and diabetes. It was seen that after 16 weeks, patients receiving red yeast rice had a notable reduction in LDL-cholesterol and in total cholesterol compared to those on placebo. Thus, the study showed that red yeast rice significantly reduced cholesterol content.

Various Chinese and American studies on red yeast rice have shown the benefits of using it, such as lowered cholesterol levels and reduced rate of deaths from heart disease. It has been reported that red yeast rice has an anti-inflammatory effect and that it might reduce glucose tolerance. A substance monakolin K, isolated from red yeast rice, is responsible for these beneficial effects; it been commercialized under the name lovastatin. This study was done to assess the effect of red yeast rice on the level of blood lipids, which act irregularly in coronary heart diseases. The study was done exclusively on a Caucasian population.

* The study group consisted of 42 Caucasians who had high LDL levels and were either pre-diabetics or had type-2 diabetes.
* The first batch of people was treated with capsules of red yeast rice, while the other received placebo treatment for a span of 16 weeks. The capsules contained well-absorbed forms of the red yeast rice product.
* Lipid levels, insulin levels and other factors were measured at the beginning of the study, during randomization, and after six and 16 weeks of treatment.
* All data were statistically analyzed for a relationship.

* Individuals receiving the red yeast rice capsules had a reduction in LDL-cholesterol by 23 percent, as compared to those given placebo.
* The total cholesterol reduced by 15.5 percent in those who took the red yeast rice capsules, as compared to those on placebo.
* The lowered lipid levels did not seem to be correlated to weight or diet changes, as these were kept similar in both the groups and did not show change throughout the study.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The red yeast rice product used in the study contained 7.2 mg of monakolin K (also known as lovastatin) and 2.4 mg of other monakolins. The study does not indicate whether the effects of the product are significantly more than those from 10 mg of lovastatin. Also, the side effects of the red yeast rice product could be similar to or milder than those of lovastatin. The study did not show any effect on glucose tolerance or inflammation markers, indicating that an earlier study’s findings could have been coincidental. This study being small might not have shown an effect on inflammation markers; though natural red yeast rice is more expensive than lovastatin treatment.

Red yeast rice brought about a significant reduction in LDL and cholesterol. It was well tolerated by the Caucasian population in this study. It had no significant effect on reducing inflammation or glucose tolerance. Most patients consider red yeast rice to be a “natural alternative” over “synthetic medication.” A few patients showed more tolerance to red yeast rice, especially those experiencing side effects with statins, which could be a psychosomatic effect of a natural food additive over a prescribed medication (lovastatin). However, some patients have also reported similar side effects in red yeast rice as with statins. The authors recommend caution in using red yeast rice, if prior therapy with statins triggered serious adverse effects. “Red yeast rice cannot be advised over statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs in general, but might be a reasonable alternative in selective cases.”

For More Information:
HypoCol (Red Yeast Rice) Lowers Plasma Cholesterol: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study
Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal, 2010
By Martin Prøven Bogsrud; Leiv Ose; Oslo University Hospital, Norway

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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