Q. What are the pros and cons of taking a supplement like red yeast rice to help lower LDL cholesterol? Are there side effects? Is it safer than prescribed medication such as atorvastatin?
A. Red yeast rice (RYR) contains statins, including lovastatin, the primary ingredient in the cholesterol-lowering drug Mevacor. Studies have demonstrated that RYR can lower LDL cholesterol about as well as some statin-type drugs (American Journal of Cardiology, Jan. 15, 2010).
Although there is evidence that many people tolerate RYR better than statins, there are others who are so sensitive that they experience side effects such as joint or muscle pain and weakness.
We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health for more details on red yeast rice, other non-drug approaches to reducing cholesterol and the pros and cons of statin drugs.
The FDA does not oversee supplements, so there is no good way to assess quality. Some red yeast rice products have been contaminated with a toxin called citrinin, so you may want to check product recommendations from ConsumerLab.com.