What is Red Yeast Rice? RYR and its role as a cholesterol lowering supplementThe most well-known of red yeast rice benefits is by far its potential to lower cholesterol. Many people with high cholesterol turn to red yeast rice supplements to avoid the dangers of statins. These cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins have been linked with some really concerning side effects, including memory loss, liver damage, muscle pain, high blood sugar, and even development of type 2 diabetes.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that supplementing with red yeast rice can lower overall as well as LDL cholesterol, aka “bad cholesterol.” According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, benefits of red yeast rice also include improvements in circulation and digestion.
Red yeast rice supplements are extremely popular so let’s take a look at the possible benefits as well as the controversy surrounding this natural over-the-counter remedy.
What Is Red Yeast Rice?
So what is red yeast rice? Red Yeast Rice is created by fermenting a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus with rice. Once the rice is combined with the fermenting yeast, the resulting red yeast rice is bright reddish purple in color. Red yeast rice extract is used to make a red yeast rice supplement.
So what makes Red Yeast Rice possibly beneficial to health concerns like high cholesterol? The interesting thing is that it has naturally occurring chemical called monacolins, which block the production of cholesterol. One of these monacolins sometimes found in Red Yeast Ricesupplements, called monacolin K, has been controversial because this chemical is said to be an active statin-like compound with the same chemical makeup as popularly prescribed statins like lovastatin and mevinolin.
This is a concern because we know the potential dangers of statins include muscle pain and weakness, neuropathy, heart failure, dizziness, cognitive impairment, cancer, pancreatic rot and depression.
Experts aren’t clear on whether RYR successfully lowers cholesterol because it contains monacolins or because of its naturally occurring plant compounds like phytosterols and isoflavones as well as its unsaturated fatty acid content. Some researchers believe that since the monacolin in red yeast rice is less than what is found in prescription statins these other substances must also play a role in red yeast rice’s ability to decrease cholesterol.
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to regulate manufactures of RYR supplements and said that supplements containing monacolin K are considered drugs rather than dietary supplements. Since that time, the FDA has taken legal action against companies making red yeast rice supplements with greater than trace amounts of monacolin K.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Despite the FDA actions, some red yeast rice products currently on the market in the United States may contain monacolin K. (Some products tested as recently as 2011 have been found to contain it in substantial amounts.) Other products may contain little or none of this component.”
Five Health Benefits of Red Yeast Rice
Help for High CholesterolRed yeast rice supplements are most often taken to naturally lower hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol. The red yeast (Monascus purpureus) used to make RYR has been shown to stop the action of an enzyme in the human body that helps form cholesterol. There have been a lot of studies showing the positive effects of red yeast rice extract on cholesterol.
A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology looked at the effects of red yeast rice supplementation on patients who could not tolerate conventional statin drugs. The results for the 25 patients treated with RYR for at least four weeks or more were pretty impressive. On average, for the people taking red yeast rice who could not tolerate statins, their total cholesterol decreased by 13 percent, LDL cholesterol went down by 19 percent and the red yeast rice was generally well-tolerated.
Another study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation evaluated the effects of red yeast rice (also called Went rice) on 79 patients with high cholesterol between 23 and 65 years of age. These patients took either 600 milligrams of red yeast rice or a placebo two times per day for a total of eight weeks. The study results revealed that the subjects who took the RYR showed “significantly greater reduction” in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels as well as total cholesterol.
Additional studies have shown decreases in cholesterol from RYR as follows:
1200mg per day lowered LDL levels by 26 percent in eight weeks.
2400mg per day reduced LDL levels by 22 percent and total cholesterol by 16 percent in 12 weeks.
Less Muscle Fatigue SymptomsOne of the main complaints with statin users is muscle fatigue. In fact, it’s estimated that between 1o percent to 15 percent of statin users experience skeletal muscle issues. A 2017 study looked at the effects of 60 patients with abnormally high cholesterol levels and with low to moderate cardiovascular risk taking either simvastatin or RYR.
After four weeks of taking either the statin or the RYR, the subjects who took the simvastatin had a significantly higher muscle fatigue score compared to the RYR group, who experienced no significant changes in muscle health. Even though both groups had decreases in their cholesterol, the researchers noted that the statin takers engaged in less physical activity (that could be related to the muscle fatigue). Overall, this study concludes that red yeast rice worked just as well for subjects as the statin but with less fatigue.
Possible Obesity AidA 2015 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food looked at how effective red yeast rice is in the treatment of obesity and high cholesterol, which are two common health concerns that often occur together. The researchers separated mice into five groups: normal diet, high-fat diet with no treatment, and three high-fat diet groups given either one gram per kilogram a day of red yeast rice for eight weeks, one gram per kilogram a day of RYR for 12 weeks or 2.5 grams per kilogram daily for eight weeks.
What did the researchers find? The supplementation with RYR actually prevented weight again and also improved the atherogenic index of subjects. The atherogenic index of plasma provides information about cholesterol ratios in the body, and it is used as a marker to predict the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. The conclusion of the study: “These findings suggest that RYR has therapeutic potential in treating obesity and hyperlipidemia.”
Reduction in Biomarkers of Oxidative StressIn 2017, results were published for a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial that involved 50 patients with metabolic syndrome and the effects of a supplement containing both red yeast rice and olive extract. Metabolic syndrome is a health disorder that involves having a combination of three or more of the following health issues: abdominal obesity, hypertension, high blood sugar, elevated triglyceride levels or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
This trial found that supplementing with red yeast rice and olive extract greatly decreased lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 (Lp-PLA2) as well as oxidized low-density lipoprotein (OxLDL). This is significant since Lp-PLA2 and OxLDL are biomarkers of oxidative damage or stress, which plays a major role in disease formation. In this case, reduction of these two markers have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease in people with metabolic syndrome.
Improvement in Insulin SensitivityA study published in the World Journal of Cardiology in 2012 demonstrates that red yeast rice extract may also help with healthy maintenance of normal blood sugar levels. This study specifically looked at the effects of a supplement containing berberine, red yeast rice and policosanol compared to a placebo on insulin resistance in people with metabolic syndrome.
After 18 weeks, the group who took the supplement containing RYR had a significant decrease in insulin resistance as well as both LDL and overall cholesterol.
Possible Side Effects and Caution
Anyone under the age of 20 should not use red yeast rice supplements. You should also avoid RYR if you have an allergy or sensitivity to rice, red yeast or members of the Monascaceae (yeast) family.
Research has shown that red yeast rice side effects are typically mild. Side effects of red yeast rice can include headache, upset stomach, heartburn, gas or dizziness. Muscle aches and weakness are also possible. If you experience muscle aches and weakness, discontinue use of red yeast rice and contact your doctor.
RYR supplements should not be taken while breastfeeding, pregnant or trying to become pregnant. It’s also recommended to avoid red yeast rice if you have kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid issues, musculoskeletal disorders or if you have a higher risk of cancer. You should also avoid red yeast rice if you have any kind of serious infection or physical condition, have had an organ transplant, or if you consume more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
It is recommended to avoid taking red yeast rice if you are already taking any of the these medications already:
- statins or other cholesterol drugs
- serzone (an antidepressant)
- antifungal drugs
- immune system suppressing drugs, such as cyclosporine
- the antibiotics erythromycin and clarithromycin (Biaxin)
- protease inhibitors used to treat HIV
It’s a good idea to take a RYR supplement under the supervision of a health care professional, especially if you are being treated for any health concerns or are currently taking any medication.
ConclusionRed yeast rice is a really interesting supplement. Scientific studies have shown that it can benefit some major health concerns, especially high cholesterol. If your doctor recommends taking a statin, it can’t hurt to ask what he or she thinks of taking a red yeast rice supplement instead. Some physicians are known to be willing to have their patients try a scientifically researched supplement like RYR.
If you have high cholesterol, it’s also crucial to focus on your diet and exercise. If you do decide to try red yeast rice, make sure it is from a reputable brand, ideally one that has strict standards for evaluating the supplements it sells to customers like you.