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Red Yeast Rice

[Studies | References]

Red yeast rice is an herb that's been used by the Chinese for over a thousand years as a food and medicinal agent. After some brief controversy with the Food and Drug Administration, red yeast rice can once again be found in health food stores in America.

The herb, whose benefits were first noticed during the Ming Dynasty, has a variety of uses. It's been used for centuries as a flavor enhancer, as a food preservative, and as a base for a Taiwanese alcoholic rice-wine beverage.

According to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Chinese medicine, red yeast rice has also been used to promote blood circulation, soothe upset stomach, and invigorate the function of the spleen. In addition, this dietary supplement has been used traditionally for bruised muscles, hangovers, indigestion, and colic in infants.

Recently, red yeast rice has been shown to reduce overall blood cholesterol, improving the ratio of HDL (the so-called "good" cholesterol) to LDL ("bad" cholesterol). Or more specifically, writes certified nutritionist Larry DeSantis, researchers have determined that one of the ingredients in red yeast rice, monacolin K, inhibits the production of cholesterol by stopping the action of a key enzyme in the liver, HMG-CoA reductase, that's responsible for manufacturing cholesterol.

A group of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins act in a similar fashion to this red yeast rice ingredient. However, the amount per volume of monacolin K in red yeast rice is small (.2 percent per 5 mg) when compared to the 20-40 mg of lovastatin available as a prescription drug.

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A plus to taking red yeast rice, write nutrition gurus Phyllis and James Balch, is that red yeast rice contains statins, which are cholesterol-lowering compounds. Though statins have a number of reported serious, adverse side effects, red yeast rice does not. Other good news:

  • The UCLA School of Medicine conducted a study involving 83 people with high cholesterol levels. Those who received red yeast rice over a 12-week period experienced a significant reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (fatty substances that can also accumulate in the blood stream and cause damage to blood vessels) compared to those who received placebo.
  • In a study on red yeast rice presented at the American Heart Association's 39th Annual conference in 1999, elderly participants who were given red yeast rice experienced significant reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol compared to those who received placebo. Both studies treated the participants with the supplement or placebo for eight weeks.
  • In another eight-week trial involving 446 people with high cholesterol levels, those who received red yeast rice experienced a significant drop in cholesterol levels compared to those who received placebo. Total cholesterol fell by 22.7 percent, LDL by 31 percent, and triglycerides by 34 percent in the red yeast rice group. HDL cholesterol increased by 20 percent in the red yeast rice group as well.

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Test your knowledge about Red Yeast Rice

1) How is red yeast rice made?

a.) By fermenting rice with a strain of red yeast  b.) By adding tomato to fermented rice  c.) All of the above  d.) None of the above

2.) What are some other names for red yeast rice? a.) Cholestin b.) Monascus c.) Zhithai d.) Xuezhikang e.) All of the above

3.) You should not take red yeast rice, if you do which of the following?

a.) Consume over 3,000 calories a day b.) Exercise more than three hours a day c.) Consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day d.) Smoke two packs of cigarettes a day

4.) Under what condition should you talk to a doctor about using red yeast rice?

a.) If you are a senior citizen  b.) If you are pregnant or could become pregnant  c.) IF there's a history of cardiovascular problems in your family d.) If you're under the age of 21

5.) Symptoms of a red yeast rice overdose include:

a.) Baldness b.) Gout c.) Molting  d.) Stomach distress e.) Bloodshot eyes

Answers are found here.


• Prescription for Nutritional Healing-Third Edition. Balch, Dr. James F and Balch, Phyllis A. Avery/Penguin. New York. 2000.

Healthy Shopper is reprinted with permission from Vitamin Retailer magazine July, 20004 and is provided for educational purposes only. No part of this article is intended as medical advice. Always consult your health care provider for any medical problems.

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