By Karen Appold
People in China and other Asian countries have used red yeast rice (RYR) as a traditional medicine for centuries. Specifically, studies have evaluated its value in lowering cholesterol levels. The results seem promising. RYR is also used as a food coloring, preservative, and additive.
RYR is extracted from rice that’s fermented with Monascus purpureus–a type of yeast. During this process, temperatures and growing conditions are controlled to increase the concentrations of chemicals that are believed to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. One chemical in particular, monacolin K, is similar to the active ingredient in a prescription drug lovastatin (Mevacor)–a statin. This drug is used to lower cholesterol. Monacolin K stops the action of an enzyme that helps to make cholesterol. Other ingredients in red yeast rice that may help to control cholesterol include phytosterols, isoflavones, and monounsaturated fatty acids (healthy fats).
Specifically, some research shows that taking a certain red yeast product (that contained large amounts of a chemical similar to statin drugs) for several months could lower total and “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
Some studies suggest that using RYR can reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 to 33 percent. Another study showed a reduction of 22 percent of LDL cholesterol and 16 percent of total cholesterol in 12 weeks. Another study showed a reduction of 26 percent in LDL levels in eight weeks. However, more studies are needed as completed studies have been fairly small and short-term. RYR also seems to lower high cholesterol due to HIV infection.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the dosage of dietary or supplemental red yeast rice ranged from up to 6,000 to 9,000 mg per day. However, the adult dosage may differ depending on the supplement’s form. Most studies have used standardized extract–which is 600 mg–two to four times a day. Individuals who are 19 and younger should not consume red yeast rice nutritional supplements.
Chinese populations also take RYR to improve blood circulation and aid with digestive problems.