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Red yeast rice: A reliable remedy?

published: 04-29-2014 Journal entry icon

Red yeast rice is a product of rice fermented with Monascus purpureusyeast. It has been used as food and/or medicine for many centuries in parts of Asia, but it is also available as a dietary supplement. It contains a substance known as monacolin K, a naturally-occurring substance that works like lovastatin, a type of statin. Statins are drugs prescribed to reduce blood cholesterol by limiting the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver. Red yeast rice that contains large amounts of monacolin K can lower blood cholesterol levels, but the amount of monacolin K in red yeast rice ranges from very high to none at all.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers that if a red yeast rice dietary supplement product contains monacolin K, it is considered an unauthorized drug and taking it can carry the same risks—some serious—as the drug lovastatin. As the consumer, you really have no way to know whether a red yeast rice product does or does not contain monacolin K, and therefore no way of knowing if the product is safe, effective, or legal. In addition, red yeast rice (as either a food or dietary supplement) can be contaminated with a form of fungus that can cause kidney failure. You can learn more about the safety and effectiveness of red yeast rice from this National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine web page.