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Researchers have determined that one of the ingredients in red yeast rice, called monacolin K, inhibits the production of cholesterol by stopping the action of the key enzyme in the liver (HMG-CoA reductase) that is responsible for manufacturing cholesterol.1 Monacolin K is the same compound as lovastatin (Mevacor), a prescription drug used to treat high cholesterol. However, the amount of monacolin K in red yeast rice is small (5 mg per 2.4 grams of red yeast rice) when compared with the 20 to 40 mg of lovastatin typically used to lower cholesterol levels.2 It appears that monacolin compounds present in red yeast rice work together with monacolin K to produce a greater cholesterol-lowering effect than would be expected from the small amount of monacolin K alone.
The red yeast rice used in various studies was a proprietary product called Cholestin, which contains ten different monacolins.
Note: Cholestin has been banned in the United States, as a result of a lawsuit alleging patent infringement.
Other red yeast rice products currently on the market differ from Cholestin in their chemical makeup. None contain the full complement of ten monacolin compounds that are present in Cholestin, and some contain a potentially toxic fermentation product called citrinin.3 Despite these concerns, other red yeast rice products are being widely used and both anecdotal reports and clinical research suggest that they have a similar safety and efficacy profile as that of Cholestin.4, 5, 6
1. Endo A. Monacolin K, a new hypocholesterolemic agent produced by a Monascus species. J Antibiot (Tokyo) 1979;32:852-4.
2. Heber D, Yip I, Ashley JM, et al. Cholesterol-lowering effects of a proprietary Chinese red-yeast-rice dietary supplement. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:231-6.
3. Heber D, Lembertas A, Lu QY, et al. An analysis of nine proprietary Chinese red yeast rice dietary supplements: implications of variability in chemical profile and contents. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7:133-9.
4. Huang CF, Li TC, Lin CC, et al. Efficacy of Monascus purpureus Went rice on lowering lipid ratios in hypercholesterolemic patients. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 2007;14:438-40.
5. Halbert SC, French B, Gordon RY, Farrar JT, Schmitz K, Morris PB, et al. Tolerability of red yeast rice (2,400 mg twice daily) versus pravastatin (20 mg twice daily) in patients with previous statin intolerance. Am J Cardiol 2010;105:198-204.
6. Venero CV, Venero JV, Wortham DC, Thompson PD. Lipid-lowering efficacy of red yeast rice in a population intolerant to statins. Am J Cardiol 2010;105:664-6.
Although primarily used to lower high serum cholesterol, red yeast rice extract, high in monacolins, has been found to significantly lower serum triglyceride levels.1 People in the trial took 1.2 grams (approximately 13.5 mg total monacolins) of a concentrated red yeast rice extract per day for two months. The sale of Cholestin has been banned in the United States, as a result of a lawsuit alleging patent infringement. Other red yeast rice products currently on the market differ from Cholestin in their chemical makeup. None contain the full complement of 10 monacolin compounds that are present in Cholestin, and some contain a potentially toxic fermentation product called citrinin. 2 Until further information is available, red yeast rice products other than Cholestin cannot be recommended.
1. Wang J, Lu Z, Chi J, et al. Multicenter clinical trial of the serum lipid-lowering effects of a Monascus purpureus (red yeast) rice preparation from traditional Chinese medicine. Curr Ther Res 1997;58:964-77.
2. Heber D, Lembertas A, Lu QY, et al. An analysis of nine proprietary Chinese red yeast rice dietary supplements: implications of variability in chemical profile and contents. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7:133-9.
This substance, native to China, is a fermentation by-product of cooked non-glutinous rice on which red yeast has been grown.1 The dried, powdered red yeast rice is used medicinally.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.