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Statins, a class of medications used to treat high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. Statin chemicals are naturally produced through fermentation with specific fungi. One study found that a garlic extract fermented with the statin-producing yeast, Monascus pilosus, can reduce high triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
The study, published in Clinical Nutrition, included 55 people with normal or moderately elevated triglyceride levels. They were divided into two groups: one was treated with the fermented garlic extract, 900 mg per day, while the other was given placebo for 12 weeks. The daily amount of the fermented garlic extract provided 2 mg of the statin chemical, monacolin K, an amount so small that it is believed to have no measurable effect.
Lab test performed during the trial revealed the following findings:
“In this study, we evaluated the effects of a product from Monascus pilosus cultured in garlic juice, which is commercially available in Japan,” the study’s authors said about their trial. “Intake [of the fermented garlic extract] decreased the serum triglyceride and LDL cholesterol concentrations, respectively, by 14.8% and 14.2% at maximum.”
Foods cultured with the monascus species of yeasts are widely used as additives and colorants in traditional Asian cuisine. Red yeast rice is an example of a food produced through fermentation with monascus yeasts. Red yeast rice has demonstrated a significant cholesterol-lowering effect and has become a popular nutritional supplement. Like the fermented garlic, it contains a small amount of monacolin K, which may contribute to its actions, but is unlikely to be the only factor.
Fermented and cultured foods have traditionally been used to treat digestive ailments and to strengthen the immune system. Some fermented foods, like fermented garlic extract, have also demonstrated heart-healthy effects. Here are some common fermented and cultured foods:
(Clin Nutr 2011;31:261–6)