Red Yeast Rice Extract for Cholesterol Control-Buyer Beware

Millions of people take prescription statins to control their cholesterol levels. Many are dissatisfied with their side effects which can include extreme muscle weakness. Side effects can be so severe that patients seek out alternative treatments.

Some are turning to a natural supplement known as Red Yeast Rice Extract as an alternative to statins. The consumer should however be aware of certain risks associated with this product.

What is Red Yeast Rice Extract?

Red yeast rice has been used in China dating back to 800 AD as a food, coloring agent and medicine. It is simply white rice that has been fermented by red yeast.

The fermentation process produces a class of compounds known as monacolins that are responsible for the cholesterol lowering properties.

Extracts involve concentrating the beneficial compounds in an easy to swallow pill.

How Do I Know How Much Active Ingredient is in My Supplement?

It turns out that you don’t know the level of “statin” in your supplement due to a conflict between the FDA and the supplement companies.

The greatest advance in the herbal supplement industry was what was known as “standardization”.

A standardized extract has been tested for the active ingredients and guaranteed to have those amounts.

It’s like taking an aspirin tablet that we know contains 325 mg of acetylsalicylic acid.

The problem is that the active ingredient in red yeast rice extract is also a patented prescription statin drug marketed as lovastatin.

The FDA has tested some of these products and found them to contain lovastatin and ordered those companies to remove the product.

Therefore the supplement companies can’t claim they have a prescription drug on their shelves and are therefore not standardizing their red yeast rice extracts.

This has led to a dangerous situation where the consumer does not know the strength of their product.

Indeed an independent test found the level of monacolins to vary dramatically from product to product and even bottle to bottle by the same manufacturer.

What Are Other Concerns?

Some red yeast rice products have been found to be contaminated with a toxic compound, called citrinin, produced by mold that can occur during the fermentation process.

This toxin can result in kidney failure.

The supplement company NOW Foods claims that their product is produced in a manner that will not result in this toxic compound being produced.

What Are the Side Effects?

The consumer of red yeast rice extract should expect the same side effects as the prescription statins.

These would include extreme muscle weakness and fatigue.

There are reports of these side effects in red yeast rice extract users.

Whether the incidence of lessening of side effects when switching to red yeast rice extract from a prescription statin is due to lack of active ingredient or some other unique quality of the supplement is open to debate.

Studies done with pharmaceutical quality red yeast rice extract would indicate it is effective in lowering the bad cholesterol and elevating the good cholesterol and at levels of lovastatin that would be too low to produce an effect.

This would suggest that other compounds in the red yeast rice extract are working in tandem to have an effect.

Since both the red yeast rice extract and prescription medications interfere with CoQ10 production one should also supplement with CoQ10 when taking red yeast rice extract (see previous post).

Should I Supplement with Red Yeast Rice Extract?

Until the FDA and the supplement industry can resolve their conflict it would seem that taking a non-standardized extract with possible mycotoxin contamination is like playing Russian Roulette.

I would recommend a reputable company like NOW Foods that is controlling for the toxin, citrinin, if one is going to supplement with red yeast rice extract.