Red Yeast Rice Cuts Cholesterol

June 25, 2009  
Filed under General Interest

New research by Cardiologists David Becker, M.D. and Ram Gordon, M.D., published in Annals of Internal Medicine, may provide alternative treatment option for statin-intolerant patients

An over-the-counter dietary supplement sold at pharmacies and health food stores may be an alternative for patients who cannot take traditional statin medications to lower cholesterol because of statin-related muscle pain. The findings of their study, “Red Yeast Rice for Dyslipidemia in Statin-Intolerant Patients,” appear in the June 16, 2009 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Cardiologists David Becker, M.D., and Ram Gordon, M.D., Chestnut Hill Cardiology, studied 62 patients with high cholesterol in the first randomized, double-blinded placebo-controlled trial to evaluate red yeast rice in patients with a history of statin-associated myalgias (side effects that include muscle pain and weakness). Thirty-one of the patients took three 600-mg capsules of red yeast rice twice per day over the course of six months, and the other half received identical placebo tablets. The red yeast rice patients also participated in weekly meetings for the first three months, where they were taught about heart disease and how to incorporate heart-healthy nutrition, exercise and stress management into their lives.

At the conclusion of the study, the research found:

  • Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as “bad cholesterol”) levels decreased more in the patients receiving the red yeast rice (average decrease, 35 mg/dL) than in patients receiving the placebo (average decrease, 15 mg/dL).
  • Total cholesterol levels improved more in the red yeast rice group than in the placebo group.
  • Muscle pain scores, weight loss, HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or “good cholesterol”) and liver or muscle enzyme levels did not differ between the two groups.

Red Yeast Rice, a staple of Chinese medicine for more than a thousand years, is derived from a fungus that grows on rice. A series of compounds within the red yeast rice have been found to slow the production of cholesterol in the liver. The medical community, however, has been slow to consider its potential use as an alternative treatment therapy for patients with statin-associated myalgias because the supplement is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Every physician has patients who refuse to take statins or have significant side effects from them,” says Dr. Becker. “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.”

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