Red yeast rice is produced by cultivating M purpureus on polished rice. The fully cultured rice is then either sold as the dried grain, or cooked and pasteurized to be sold as a wet paste, or dried and pulverized to be sold as a fine powder. China is the world’s largest producer of red yeast rice. It has been used for centuries by the Chinese as a spice. This is what gives Peking duck its red color. As well as its culinary uses it has been documented as far back as the Tang Dynasty for its use in traditional Chinese medicine to invigorate the body, aid in digestion and remove “blood blockages”
There have been several studies lately that suggest red yeast rice has the ability to reduce the instance of repeat heart attacks, lower cholesterol, and may be an alternative for people that can not take statin drugs due to the negative side effects.
One study of patients that previously had heart attacks showed that partially purified extract of red yeast rice reduced repeat heart attacks by 45%, while by-pass surgery and mortality were reduced by one third. The study was a multi center, randomized, double blind study conducted on 5,000 patients ranging in age from 18 to 70 over a five year period at 60 hospitals in the Peoples Republic of China.
David M. Capuzzi, M.D., Ph.D, director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program at Jefferson’s Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and Zonliang Lu, M.D., Ph.D, from the Fuwai Hospital at the Chinese Academy of Medical Science reported their findings in the June 15th edition of the American Journal of Cardiology. Dr. Capuzzi is quoted as saying “It’s very exciting because this is a natural product and had very few adverse side effects including no abnormal blood changes”.
In another study researchers at the University of Tromso in Norway, Shanghai University of Traditional Medicine and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine conducted a meta-analysis of 93 randomized studies that tested the effectiveness of three different red yeast rice preparations. The researchers were assessing the effectiveness in treating hyperlipidemia which is a condition in which patients have an abnormally high concentration of lipids (fats) in the blood. They found that all three preparations significantly reduced total blood cholesterol as well as triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
The study also showed that all three preparations were as effective in lowering lipid cholesterol levels as popular statin drugs Zocor, Lipitor and Mevacor. However, unlike statin drugs they did not exhibit the side effects such as muscle discomfort, liver damage, depression and sexual dysfunction. The effects of these three preparations seemed to be limited to dizziness and some gastrointestinal discomfort.
It is estimated that about 15% of people taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol stop the medication because of the side effects. This leaves this population with no effective treatment.
Research by two Philadelphia area cardiologists finds that over-the-counter dietary supplements sold at health food stores and pharmacies may be an alternative for those patients suffering from high cholesterol that can not take statin drugs. Dr. David Becker and Ram Gordon, M.D. at Chestnut Hill Cardiology, published the findings of their study, “Red Yeast Rice for Dyslipidemia in Statin-Intolerant Patients,” in the June 16, 2009 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.
When the study was concluded some of the findings were:
– LDL (bad) cholesterol levels decreased more in patients receiving red yeast rice than in the patients who did not.
– Total cholesterol levels improved more in the group taking red yeast rice than the placebo.
According to Dr. Becker “Every physician has patients who refuse to take statins or have significant side effects from them”. And he goes on to say “One of the largest challenges in the medical community has been that there is no agreement or consensus on how to treat these patients. We are convinced that our research may lead to some answers.”
Dr. Gordon goes on to say, “While red yeast rice isn’t appropriate for everyone, the goal of our research was to see if it has potential to be an option for those patients who discontinue their statins because of the side effects. Often these patients with high cholesterol are left without lipid-lowering therapy. This is especially worrisome if the patient has a history of heart attacks, stents, bypass surgery or strokes.”
This study has added significance because it was funded by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania rather than the pharmaceutical companies with their commercial interest in mind.