What is Red Yeast Rice?
Red yeast rice (RYR) is a type of fermentation from Monascus purpureus, a type of yeast. The fermented rice is usually reddish purple in color and the extract helps prepare red yeast supplements. Red yeast rice is popular because it contains a compound called monacolin K, which is included in medications that lower cholesterol levels. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to address digestion and blood circulation (x).
Why is red yeast rice beneficial to health issues like high cholesterol? RYR has a naturally occurring compound called monacolin, which reduces cholesterol production. However, monacolin K in RYR supplements is controversial because it is a statin-active chemical. Research associates several dangers with statins, including liver failure, skeletal muscle damage and cognitive impairment. Milder side effects may include diarrhea, stomach pain and headaches (x).
Researchers have not discovered the exact reason that red yeast rice lowers cholesterol. It may be because of statin and it may be because it contains natural plant compounds like isoflavones or monacolins. It may also be because of its unsaturated fatty acid content. Research suggests that the supplement successfully regulates cholesterol because it contains substances other than monacolins (x).
Health Benefits of Red Yeast Rice
Regulates High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that the body needs to function correctly. It already exists in all cells and some foods. Even though it is essential, if the body gets too much cholesterol in the blood it increases the risk of heart disease (x). Red yeast rice supplements are typically useful to lower high cholesterol or hyperlipidemia. Studies state that the red yeast in supplements can help block an enzyme responsible for cholesterol formation.
To illustrate, a 2010 article in the American Journal of Cardiology studied the effects of red yeast rice supplements on patients with no tolerance to statin drugs. The researchers treated the patients with red yeast rice supplements for four weeks and they received beneficial results. The subjects’ LDL cholesterol levels decreased by almost 13 percent, while HDL cholesterol increased by 19 percent. HDL is high-density lipoprotein, a combination of fat and protein, and LDL is low-density protein. Doctors often refer to HDL as a “good” cholesterol, while LDL is “bad” (x). The patients also tolerated RYR supplements more easily than the statins (x).
In 2015, the Journal of Medical Food published a study that assessed whether the extract was effective in treating high cholesterol and diet-induced obesity. The researchers divided the animal subjects in the study into five different groups. The first three groups had a high fat diet with red yeast rice extract. The first group received one gram of fat per kilogram of red yeast rice for eight weeks. The second group received one gram per kilogram of RYR for 12 weeks and the third one received 2.5 grams per kilogram for eight weeks. The next group followed a normal diet and the last group ate a high-fat diet without a red yeast rice treatment.
According to the results, the group that received RYR supplements did not gain any weight compared to the others. The researchers concluded that red yeast rice may have the potential to prevent diet-induced weight gain and obesity and hyperlipidemia (x).
Supports Kidney Function
Triglycerides and high cholesterol can cause serious damage to the kidneys without treatment. According to studies, red yeast rice may protect the kidneys from damage. If patients take it regularly under medical supervision, the supplement may help reverse kidney damage from high cholesterol levels or triglycerides. Even though these studies help reveal new information about the relationship between RYR and kidney function, researchers still have more information to gather (x).
Improves Bone Health
Researchers conducted a study on rats with osteoporosis and concluded that RYR supplements helped reduce bone loss. The group that consumed red yeast rice supplements had healthier bone cells and higher bone density compared to the control group. This study suggests that RYR may fight osteoporosis and promote healthy bones (x).
Another study used white rabbits as subjects and yielded a similar effect. The researchers grafted the rabbits with red yeast rice extract mixed with collagen. The rabbits with grafts attached with RYR extract showed improved bone growth compared to the control group without grafts (x).
Addresses Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Some of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome include increased blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess body fat and changes in triglyceride levels and cholesterol (x). Several studies assert that red yeast rice may help reduce some of these risk factors. It may also act as a natural treatment to help prevent them (x). A small, 18-week long study concluded that the supplement can potentially reduce insulin levels, blood sugar and systolic blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome (x).
Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response, an attempt to protect itself from infections and foreign invaders. However, prolonged inflammation can be harmful to health and may contribute to various chronic issues like heart disease, cancer and diabetes (x).
Studies reveal that red yeast rice supplements may be helpful in reducing inflammation and improving the overall health of patients. In the study, 50 individuals with metabolic syndrome took the extract. As a result, the participants showed a reduction in oxidative stress levels. Oxidative stress is a major cause of chronic inflammation (x).
Contains Anticancer Properties
Although the current research is only limited to test-tube studies and animals, evidence exhibits that red yeast rice has the potential to reduce the growth of cancer cells. In a study, researchers gave the extract powder to a group of mice with prostate cancer and their tumors significantly decreased compared to the control group (x).
Likewise, another test-tube study tested the effects of RYR on prostate cancer. The study showed that treating prostate cancer cells with red yeast powder helped decrease cancer cell growth better than lovastatin, which is a medication that controls cholesterol. However, researchers need more information to validate these claims (x).
Side Effects of Red Yeast Rice
Red yeast rice is a dietary supplement usually prescribed to control high cholesterol levels. However, it may also have a number of potential side effects. They are usually rare, but it is important to be aware of the potential side effects before adding it to a diet (x). Side effects include headache, stomachache and diarrhea. It may also cause gas, bloating and heartburn.
Products that contain monacolin K may trigger similar side effects to lovastatin, which lowers cholesterol. Side effects include muscle damage, liver and kidney damage and muscle pain. It may also cause full kidney failure if the substance is not cultured correctly (x).
Pregnancy and Children
Red yeast rice supplements are not safe for patients who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant and it is not safe for those who breastfeed. The supplement may not be safe for children, so it is best to consult with a doctor before starting a supplement regimen for a child (x).
Interactions with Other Drugs
Red yeast rice supplements may interact with drugs and medication. Patients who are already taking any of the following medications should avoid taking the supplement at all costs to avoid any adverse reactions (x):
- Antifungal drugs
- Other cholesterol drugs
- Medication to treat HIV infections
It is always safest to take red yeast rice supplements under the supervision of a healthcare professional, especially patients who are already taking medication for other health conditions.
Red Yeast Rice Dosage
As a dietary supplement, red yeast rice is easy to add to food. The recommended dosage for red yeast rice extract powder is 600 mg once or twice a day. Take it with at least 200 mg of Coenzyme Q10 for better results. Always consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen to confirm its safety. Seek confirmation for dosage instructions and follow all medical advice.
Why Take Red Yeast Rice?
Red yeast rice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to improve digestion and circulation. The most beneficial effect is its potential to lower cholesterol. Many people opt for supplements as opposed to statins because of the potential side effects. Research links statins with possible side effects like liver damage, kidney damage, memory loss and skeletal muscle damage. It also has the potential to control weight gain and possibly prevent obesity. Studies also show that it may have anticancer properties and may help reduce inflammation that leads to serious health conditions.
The Bottom Line
Used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, red yeast rice is created from the fermentation of a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus. It contains a compound called monacolin K, which is found in medications that aim to lower cholesterol levels. Studies show that it also has the potential to promote heart health, reduce inflammation, control insulin levels, inhibit cancer cell growth and improve metabolism.
Mild side effects may include gastrointestinal issues, bloating or headaches. It may also cause more severe side effects like liver toxicity and muscular issues. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take red yeast rice. Consult with a doctor before consuming this supplement because it may also interact with other medications. Supplements are not a treatment for any medical condition, even though studies show that they have the potential for health improvement.