Reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Mercola
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of the body. Most people have a negative perception of it, but cholesterol actually has a role in maintaining proper biological functions. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, cholesterol is responsible for the production of hormones, vitamin D and other substances that help digest food. Your body can produce all the cholesterol it needs, but some foods contain it as well.1
Cholesterol is broken down into two main types: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is considered essential because it carries excess cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver for elimination.2
LDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is bad for your health because too much of it eventually becomes part of plaque, the substance that clogs arteries that can lead to stroke and heart attack.3
Due to the rise of heart disease among the population, pharmaceutical companies developed drugs called statins, which are used to lower LDL cholesterol levels. However, there are many dangers associated with using these medications, which is why consumers are looking for supposedly “safer” alternatives.4
Red yeast rice is one such natural product touted to have cholesterol-lowering properties. However, the substance it contains, monacolin K, is also found in statin drugs, such as Mevacor. As a result, you’re also prone to the side effects commonly associated with taking statins, which may take a toll on your health when consumed long-term.5
Statins Are Commonly Used to Lower Cholesterol Levels, but at a Steep Price
Several risk factors such as an unhealthy diet, being overweight and lack of physical activity increase your LDL cholesterol levels, which in turn, influence your chances of developing heart disease. When they reach a high amount, your doctor may prescribed you statins, which are a class of drugs designed to lower cholesterol levels. According to WebMD, between 15 to 20 million Americans are already taking statins to prevent heart disease from occurring.6
While prevalent, taking statins is not a strategy that I would recommend people should follow. Statins have serious side effects that can worsen your health further, such as:7
• Muscle pain and weakness: Taking statins regularly may eventually cause your muscles to develop weakness, soreness and fatigue, making your hobbies and daily routines hard to perform. Even worse, statins may cause rhabdomyolysis, a severe condition that may lead to liver failure and kidney damage.
• Liver damage: Prolonged use of statins will eventually increase the level of enzymes in your body that signal liver inflammation.
• Type 2 diabetes: Statins may increase your blood sugar levels, which may eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes if you don’t watch your lifestyle choices carefully.
• Memory problems: There have been reports of people developing memory loss or confusion while taking statins.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels Naturally
Now that you know the dangers of using statins, what can you do to lower your cholesterol levels safely? There’s actually a lot of strategies you can implement to slowly transform your health around, without relying on medications. Here are some of my top recommendations:
• Eat a healthy diet: Replace processed foods loaded with sugars, trans fats and preservatives with organically grown vegetables and fruits, as well as grass fed meats. These healthy choices contain various nutrients that will help promote optimal health in the long run.
Furthermore, increase your consumption of healthy fats from grass fed milk, coconut and coconut oil, unpasteurized nuts and avocados. The fats from these foods are an ideal source of energy compared to glucose because they burn cleaner and last longer.
• Optimize your vitamin D levels: Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a role in many biological processes. To improve on this aspect, simply go outside at noon if possible and bask in the sun’s rays for a short amount of time. Your body is able to produce its own supply of vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
• Reseed your gut with healthy bacteria: Probiotics play a big role in promoting optimal health as they’re a crucial part of your immune system. Fermented vegetables and dairy products contain beneficial bacteria that will work together with a healthy diet to help prevent heart disease and other illnesses.
• Get regular exercise: Exercise is one of the easiest ways of strengthening your cardiovascular system, especially when it’s done regularly. If your schedule is full and you can only spare a few minutes of your time, consider doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which takes a fraction of the time compared to a typical exercise session, but provides practically the same benefits.
As mentioned above, another type of supplement called red yeast rice is being touted to have potential benefits for high cholesterol levels. But is it really safer than statins?
Can This Supplement Help Lower Cholesterol Levels Better Than Statins?
Red yeast rice is a fermented food made by mixing together the yeast strain Monascus purpureus over red rice. It has been valued for centuries in ancient China, and has been purported to be helpful in improving blood circulation and digestion.8 The most prominent benefit associated with red yeast rice is lowering LDL cholesterol in your system. The main substance responsible for this effect is called monacolin K, which has the same makeup as the drug lovastatin (Mevacor).
Red yeast rice essentially works the same way as a statin drug. Both function by inhibiting the production of an enzyme in your liver that’s needed to manufacture cholesterol. They even have similar active ingredients. As a result, both products can produce side effects that can hamper normal biological functions. For example, statins reduce your body’s Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is important for heart health and muscle function.
But does red yeast rice actually work? Research published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine noted that people who took red yeast rice extract lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by 22 percent.9 In another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a similar outcome has been observed.10
While these studies highlight the possible effectiveness of red yeast rice supplements, other important factors must be considered, such as lack of uniformity among products, the possibility of contamination and the risk of developing severe side effects.11 In short, the cons strongly outweigh the pros of red yeast rice supplements. Instead, I recommend lowering your cholesterol levels naturally by following the strategies highlighted above.
Typical Dosages for Red Yeast Rice Supplements
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The dosage of red yeast rice supplements varies depending on the manufacturer, but most products typically come in 600-milligram capsules. The instructions indicate that you should take two capsules twice a day, totaling up to 2,400 milligrams.12 Research has shown that this dosage can be tolerated by most people, according to The American Journal of Cardiology. Participants who took 2,400 milligrams daily for 12 weeks had their LDL cholesterol levels decrease by 30 percent.13
Possible Side Effects and Interactions of Red Yeast Rice
The side effects of taking red yeast rice are generally minor, such as:
• Passing gas
However, note that there’s a rare instance you may develop rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of muscle proteins that spread into your bloodstream. It is a serious condition marked by muscle weakness, soreness, fatigue and dark-colored urine.14 Furthermore, red yeast rice may react negatively with other drugs and supplements, as outlined below:15
CoQ10 or ubiquinone
St. John’s wort
Cylcosporine (Neoral or Sandimmune)
Anticoagulants, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix) and aspirin
Antibiotics such as fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Sporanox) and erythromycin (Erythrocin or Ilosone)
Statins such as lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and simvastatin (Zocor)
Medications that may harm the liver such as amiodarone, carbamazepine, isoniazid, methotrexate, methyldopa, phenytoin and valporic acid
CYP3A4 inhibitors, such as clarithromycin (Biaxin), diltiazem (Cardizem), indinavir (Crixivan), ritonavir (Norvir) and saquinavir (Fortovase or Invirase)
It Is Far Healthier to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels Naturally
Based on the information provided, I cannot recommend red yeast rice supplements because they’re essentially the same as statins. I strongly encourage implementing the natural strategies I mentioned earlier to manage your cholesterol levels instead of relying on medications like statins or supplements like red yeast rice. This way, you’re still reducing your risk of developing complications by staying as healthy as you can through a holistic approach.
Frequently Asked Questions About Red Yeast Rice Supplements
Q: Does red yeast rice lower cholesterol?
A: According to published studies, red yeast rice may have a cholesterol-lowering effect on users. In one example published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers noted that participants who took red yeast rice extract twice a day for 24 weeks lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by 43 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) halfway through the study, and 35 mg/dL by the end of the trial period.16
Q: How many milligrams should you take to lower cholesterol?
A: A typical dosage is two capsules twice a day. A single tablet is around 600 milligrams, which totals up to 2,400 milligrams when the instructions are followed correctly.
Q: What is red yeast rice good for?
A: Red yeast rice is generally known for its purported ability to reduce LDL cholesterol.17
Q: Is red yeast rice safe?
A: The safety of red yeast rice is still under question, as it contains monacolin K, which is also found in statins.
Q: Is red yeast rice dangerous?
A: Taking red yeast rice may lead to a rare side effect known as rhabdomyolysis. In this condition, you will experience muscle aches and weakness. Speak to your doctor immediately if you develop such symptoms.18
Q: Where can you buy red yeast rice?
A: Red yeast rice supplements can be bought in places such as Walmart, Whole Foods and natural food establishments. They can also be purchased online.19
Q: Is red yeast rice a blood thinner?
A: Yes, taking red yeast rice may increase the risk of bleeding, especially when mixed with other anticoagulants.
Sources and References
1, 2 National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “What Is Cholesterol?”
3 WebMD, “LDL: The ‘Bad’ Cholesterol”
4 Medical News Today, July 17, 2017
5 University of Maryland Medical Center, “Red Yeast Rice”
6 WebMD, “Side Effects of Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Drugs”
7 Mayo Clinic, “Statin Side Effects: Weight the Benefits and Risks”
9 BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013 July 18;13:178
10 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999 Feb;69(2):231-6
11 Pharmacy & Therapeutics, 2009 June;34(6):313-327
12 Drugs.com, “Red Yeast Rice”
13 The American Journal of Cardiology, 2010 Jan 15;105(2):198-204
14 Healthline, “Rhabdomyolysis: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis”
15 Everyday Health, “What Is Red Yeast Rice?”
16 Annals of Internal Medicine, 2009 June 16;150(12):830-9, W147-9
17 WebMD, “Red Yeast Rice”
19 USA Today, June 23, 2017
20 Penn State Hershey Medical Center, “Red Yeast Rice”
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