By Bernard Preston

Red yeast rice

Red yeast rice is a dietary staple in some Asian countries, and reportedly contains several compounds that inhibit cholesterol production. This new study supports similar findings for the ingredient, with American researchers reporting in Annals of Internal Medicine that it could indeed help reduce blood lipid levels in people intolerant to statins.

Simvastatin vs therapeutic lifestyle changes and supplements

Simvastatin vs therapeutic lifestyle changes and supplements1 is a randomized primary prevention trial, reported in the journal Mayo Clin Proc; you could google it and find the abstract yourself.

Here's a summary of their findings.

In a randomized study involving 74 patients with high cholesterol, results indicate that

  1. therapeutic lifestyle changes, plus
  2. ingestion of red yeast rice, and
  3. supplementation with fish oil

were found to improve the lipid profile of the patients more than therapy with statin cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The patients were randomized to 1 of 2 groups for a period of 12 weeks:

  1. alternative treatment group (AG): underwent therapeutic lifestyle changes + received fish oil supplementation (EPA 2106 mg/d, DHA 1680 mg/d) + red yeast rice (5.3 mg monacolin);
  2. simvastatin group: received the drug Simvastatin (40 mg/d) and traditional counseling about Cholesterol.

At intervention end, 42.4% and 39.6% reductions in LDL cholesterol were observed in the AG and simvastatin groups, respectively.

More important, significant reductions in triglycerides (29%) and weight (5.5%) were observed in the AG group, compared with the simvastatin group.

Thus, the authors of this study conclude,

"Lifestyle changes combined with ingestion of red yeast rice and fish oil reduced LDL-C in proportions similar to standard therapy with simvastatin."

Pending confirmation in larger trials, this multifactorial, alternative approach to lipid lowering has promise for a subset of patients unwilling or unable to take statins."

BP: In short, for patients who would rather take the natural approach than take medication.


“Lipid-Lowering Efficacy of Red Yeast Rice in a Population Intolerant to Statins”

“The present report has provided real-world evidence of LDL cholesterol reduction with nonselected, over-the-counter red yeast rice therapy in an outpatient population intolerant to other lipid medications.”

- American Journal of Cardiology.

Dietary supplements of red yeast rice may lower LDL cholesterol levels by 21 per cent, and offer a blood lipid lowering alternative for people intolerant to statins, says a new study. Reductions in total cholesterol levels of 15 per cent were also reported, and 92 per cent of participants tolerated the dietary supplement, according to findings published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Researcher was done at the University of Tennessee, Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, and the University of Connecticut.

“Producing red yeast rice under controlled conditions could provide a widely available and safe dietary supplement for lowering cholesterol,” they added.

Regulatory approval:

Only recently the European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health in Brussels deemed the ingredient to not be a "novel food", a decision that facilitates the use of the ingredient in dietary supplements without having to undergo novel food approval.

Consideration of the ingredient’s status was requested by the EU headquarters in Brussels, and Italy confirmed that food supplement products containing the rice were indeed on the Italian market before the Novel Food Regulation entered into law in 1997.

Study details

Led by Dr Paul Thompson from the University of Connecticut, the researchers collected data on 25 people who received red yeast rice supplements for at least four weeks, based on patient charts. All the patients were intolerant to statins, and noted adverse effects including muscle pain and gastrointestinal intolerance. (BP: do you have other bad side effects since taking statins? Aching legs? Loss of libido or even impotence?)

The data from the patients showed that the supplement was associated with a 15% reduction in total cholesterol and and 21% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels, respectively.

“This retrospective observational study of a clinical population demonstrated significant LDL cholesterol reductions with the therapy in a population highly intolerant to daily statin use,” wrote Thompson and his co-workers.

The authors also noted the key limitations of their study, including that it was “small, unblinded, uncontrolled, and retrospective”. They also note that patients selected their own rice preparation.

Source: The American Journal of Cardiology Volume 105, Issue 5, Pages 664-666

Authors: C.V. Venero, J.V. Venero, D.C. Wortham, P.D. Thompson

Bernard Preston comment

Let's say you have total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL, which is considered moderately high. A 15% reduction means your total cholesterol drops to 204 mg/dL which is reasonably good.

More important if your LDL cholesterol is 130 mg/dL (high), a 21% drop means your LDL level would be 103 mg/dL. Below 100 is considered ideal.

Do you know what the high cholesterol symptoms are?


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