red yeast rice, risk of red yeast rice, red yeast rice safe

Q. I have heart damage caused by a virus. They say I must keep my cholesterol lower than most, because of the cardiac damage I already have. My last two cholesterol readings were 240 and then 260. My doctor argued I could eat grass and not lower my cholesterol into the desired range.

I was determined not to take statin drugs and started on red yeast rice and Coenzyme Q10. Last week I went to my primary care provider for blood work and got the lecture that these “natural” products would not help me. I have been taking them 3 months.

The nurse called with my results and I laughed out loud! My total cholesterol was 160. My HDL was 100 and my LDL was 60. So as you can see, I dropped my total cholesterol 100 points in 3 months and have had no side affects.

Most Doctors don’t believe it, because they believe the drug reps and what they tell them. I have to say that my cardiologist is on my side and said it would be fine for me to try red yeast rice. He will be happy when he sees how well I have done!

People need to be careful with statins. They can do more harm than help. If you do take them, you better take the CoenzymeQ10 too. Statins deplete it and leave your heart and body in danger.

A. Thanks for sharing your story. We know that many physicians prefer to prescribe a statin-type medication such as atorvastatin, lovastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin or simvastatin than endorse red yeast rice (RYR) from the health food store. One reason is that dietary supplements are not well regulated by the FDA. As a consequence you cannot always tell whether the RYR is reliable or free from contamination.

That said, there is research to suggest that red yeast rice can indeed lower cholesterol surprisingly well. A. Several studies have shown that red yeast rice lowers cholesterol better than placebo (Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal, Aug. 2010) and is less likely than a statin drug to cause unpleasant side effects (Annals of Internal Medicine, June 16, 2009). A recent report published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, April 25, 2012, reported that “None of the participants in our study reported any muscle pains, and no abnormal liver function tests were seen while taking the product [red yeast rice plus phytosterols]. Though this case series is limited by small sample size, study duration, and lack of control group, the product’s significant reduction in ldl cholesterol without severe side effects indicates that this product may be a clinically effective and well tolerated alternative treatment to using statin medications to treat hypercholesterolemia.”

That said, some people do report muscle pain or other adverse reactions after taking red yeast rice. Here is one story:

“I have been taking red yeast rice (RYR) for a couple of years. My cholesterol dropped dramatically, but I began to develop muscle aches and joint pain in my legs and hips.

“Now my pain has become debilitating and constant. Celebrex helped but gave me burning in my stomach, so I stopped it. My pain has become even worse and is affecting my job and my ability to exercise.

“Might it be the RYR? I’ve been to many doctors who have no idea where this pain is coming from. I have been active my whole life and at 59 I feel like I’m headed toward a battle with chronic pain in my lower extremities. Doctors don’t seem to want to admit red yeast rice or statins are the culprit.”

Some people are so susceptible to statins (yes, there are stains in red yeast rice) that even the relatively low dose in a natural product like RYR can trigger symptoms. Other side effects of statins may include:

  • Muscle pain & weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Elevations in blood sugar
  • Nerve pain
  • Sexual problems (erectile dysfunction & lower libido)
  • Headache
  • Digestive distress
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Gas
  • Skin rash and/or itching
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Cataracts
  • Cognitive impairment, mental fuzziness, forgetfulness
  • Transient global amnesia

To learn more about how to control choleserol and triglycerides naturally you may find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies of great value. Our Guide to Cholesterol Control & Heart Health also discusses the pros and cons of red yeast rice and other options.

People who are taking red yeast rice or niacin must monitor muscle and joint discomfort carefully as well as liver function. Do not assume that just because you can buy such products in a health food store or pharmacy without a prescription that they are perfectly safe for everyone.

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  1. Terri

    My cholesterol was 345 recently. A BIG surprise, as the last time, just 5 or 6 years ago, it was 200. I might add I have gone into menopause since then. My doctor immediately put me on fenofibrate. A couple of weeks later I was in the sun for a few hours, and got a horrible rash everywhere that was exposed to the sun. I used sunscreen, and I have used it before with no problems so I ruled out a reaction to that. I figured it must be the fenofibrate/sun combo. Not acceptable! So, I decided to stop taking those and got some red yeast rice capsules. 3rd day of those, I am getting tiny itchy bumps on my hands, mostly around the knuckles. I still feel the other bumps all over my arms and upper chest (quite a bit diminished but still there and still rather itchy). All very frustrating, to say the least!

  2. Pete Misner

    I would to know what the daily dose for red yeast rice should be? Thanks, Pete

    • Joe Graedon

      The usual dose is 600 to 1200 mg per day.

  3. Rea

    First of all I want to say my last check up showed my cholesterol being 128. I found out that low cholesterol was just as bad as high cholesterol. So, I quit the meds I was on and I’m waiting to see what my readings will be the next time it is taken. My doctor told me it takes years for cholesterol to form. Being 75 I’m not so worried about it anymore. I see everyone talking about red yeast rice, but no tells how much to eat or how to take it. And what about the CoQ10? No one said anything about how much to take and how. PLEASE give the details. Thank you.

  4. fbl

    Lose the soy and get some allergy testing done.
    The Food Safe test is good. Stop eating grocery store oils, other than a good olive oil. Stick to the natural organic oils such as coconut oil, palm, butter and lard, and rice bran oil.

  5. Maria from Ohio

    I have had high cholesterol for over 12 years, 220 to 250. But I have a healthy HDL of 70 and sometime even 80. Many years ago, when my cholesterol was in the 270s, I just got tired of the margarine splattering when I cooked my late husband’s favorite 2 eggs sunny side up breakfast nearly every day. So I switched to butter and when my blood work was checked about 6 months later, my cholesterol dropped to the low 200s. When my doctor asked what changes I made in my diet and when I told him, he was surprised.

  6. Kathleen E.

    Two Oriental doctors of mine recommended Red Yeast Rice. I took it with terrific results. I told my Primary doctor that I heard of a study that said that Red Yeast Rice was as affective as statins. She said, “That is right. Do you know why? Statins come from Red Yeast Rice.” I had a bout with hip pain for a short time. I stopped the Red Yeast Rice for two weeks to see if that was the culprit. It seemed to be. I resumed gradually, but now I leave it off for a day or so which apparently keeps my levels a little lower with no pain. I go for my annual check up Monday. I’ll be interested to see my values.

    • AWL
      United States

      Be very careful Red yeast Rice contains an ingredient that is a statin. I was using Red Yeast Rice, because I was allergic to statins. Yet I developed with (RYR) after months a horrible rash and itching, also increased blood sugar elevations (Type 2 diabetic) and cataracts. All of these are possible side effects of RYR as I have read the literature. Also RYR will reduce your Co-Q-10. I am not a Dr. recommending a course of action for you, but wanted to share my experience.

  7. fbl

    Forget all that stuff!
    The answer is to get back to real food and real fats. Yes, I mean organic butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil and rice bran oil. Over a period of 20 years we have learned the hard way. We started out like we were supposed to with low fat etc. Didn’t work. Then I finally said enough and went to a totally natural diet with mostly organic and it has made a huge difference in my hubby’s cholesterol level.
    Yes, he dropped 100 points!

  8. PC

    I have used red yeast rice (organically grown) on the advice of a naturopathic dr. It definitely works! I have gotten my LDL down to 100 with the help of red yeast rice and a healthy diet. I am currently off of it for a while to see if diet / exercise will be enough to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

  9. MFK

    I wonder whether those taking the red yeast rice, and having muscle pain, are also taking CoQ10? The best product I have seen is one that combines the RYR with CoQ, ALA, and silymarin (to protect the liver.)

  10. Jim B.

    What else do the RSR eaters include in their diet? Check out the Esselstyn diet of nothing but plant food (a stricter vegan diet). Read his book Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease! He was able to reduce 18 dead-end heart patients’ cholesterol below 150 and extend their lives by years.

  11. D. Hutchens

    I have Chronic Pansinusiti sinusitis and I get a lot of chest congestion. And sometimes a deep cough. My ENT give me a Bactroban Ointment and a rinse recipe to rinse out 2 to 4 times a day as needed. I have a nose spray called Veramyst I try not to use meds and stay with the natural but sometimes I have it so bad I have to use rx meds.
    I also have high cholesterol it was 271 but I am taking steps to lower it such as Magnesium Glycinate 400, Cholest off. I have tried Niacin and I had itching all over me. Plus I am dieting, I eat grilled salmon, halibut, chicken breast, rice, all steam vegs. soy milk unsweetened, oatmeal steel cut, plain cheerios, No fast foods, fried foods, sugar, I have lost 13 pounds in 8 weeks. How can I control the chest congestion? I do take plain mucinex. Thank you

  12. TR

    I’m a 73 yr. old retiree whose total cholesterol has been constantly above 200 for the past six years, having gone as high as 257 in ’09, but my regular Dr. has done nothing. However, this year I had to see his assistant for my general checkup, who, based on my latest lab result (228) prescribed Lovastatin 20 mg for a month to see if a reduction occurs. I’m not too keen to take the medication because of the potential side effects and am wondering if an alternative natural remedy might do the trick, especially as my regular Dr. saw no need for medication. Any advice?

  13. carol

    I’m a relatively active 70 yr old who does water aerobics 2-3x/wk for main exercise. In the past 4 months I have begun experiencing severe joint pain, particularly in my knees and ankles, when I am supine and relaxed. The pain comes on suddenly and lasts a few minutes, then disappears. At other times, my hands fall asleep briefly. I do not take any statins or RYR, but I wonder if some other foods could cause this condition. I have severe acid reflux and take Zantac and about 3000 mg or more chewable calcium daily.

  14. MaryT

    I just want to point out that my husband suffered all of the same side effects with Red Yeast Rice as he did with the statins. Because of unbearable arthritic symptoms he stopped it as well. He too had good results with lowering of cholesterol in the beginning. Once the same old side effects kicked in he gave it up. There is definitely something to be said about the “quality of life”. I guess you have to weigh whether you want to suffer with joint pain or have lower cholesterol. Personally, I think this push for statins is strange. As so many friends I know have been having knee replacements I am wondering if it has anything to do with statin drugs.

  15. Sheri

    My father thought he had hit the jackpot when using the red yeast rice after having so many debilitating side effects from statins. Unfortunately after a few months he had the same effects with the RYR.

  16. cpmt

    May be she should also take another product to counteract or balance the negative in red yeast? like co.q10 or..?? I know someone (here) said taking something ( …??? ) to help with side effects of niacin and red yeast rice. (I can’t remember what it was)

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