Q. I heard on the news that red yeast rice can help lower cholesterol, but I’d like to know more about the pros and cons. Are there dangerous side effects? Someone told me red yeast rice can cause liver problems. Is that true?
A. Red yeast rice is a Chinese product that has been used for centuries in food as a preservative, flavoring and coloring agent. It makes Peking duck red, for example, and is also used in red rice vinegar. It has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for indigestion and to promote blood circulation.
Red yeast rice can lower cholesterol. It contains some compounds related to statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs such as lovastatin (Mevacor). A recent study in China shows that red yeast rice can nearly halve the risk of a second heart attack (American Journal of Cardiology, June 15, 2008).
Readers like this one have had success with red yeast rice: “I balked for years at taking a statin but my cholesterol continued to rise in spite of my attempts to control it with diet. I tried Pravachol but did not like the way I felt. My cardiologist suggested I try red yeast rice. Within six weeks my LDL level had dropped from 187 to 123.”
Despite such success, some people experience side effects, including muscle pain and weakness and liver damage. For much more information about red yeast rice and other alternative ways to control cholesterol, we’d like to send you a copy of our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy.