red rice

Tens of millions of people take statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs. Physicians believe such drugs are dramatically effective against heart disease. We will not deal with that controversial topic in this article. What a lot of readers want to know is whether red yeast rice is a viable alternative.

Many physicians believe that dietary supplements in general and red yeast rice in particular are unreliable or dangerous. They point out that the FDA doesn’t do a very good job overseeing vitamins, dietary supplements or herbal preparations. We cannot disagree. The FDA has pretty much abdicated its responsibility when it comes to nondrug alternatives.

A Reader Wants to Know About Red Yeast Rice:

Q. Ten years ago, I had a heart attack. I was sent home from the hospital with eight different prescription medications.

Within two months, I felt like a 90-year-old arthritic, although I was only 55 at the time. I told my doctor about the effects of the medications. He took me off of one med each week to see if there was a change.

He determined that simvastatin was causing the problem, but he said I could not stop taking a statin for cholesterol control. I chose to switch to over-the-counter red yeast rice instead.

Within two days the side effects ceased. Within six months, my cholesterol had dropped 50 points. I also changed my diet to include lots of fruits and vegetables, stopped eating processed foods and reduced my salt intake. I started walking five days a week for at least 30 minutes per day.

I am no longer on any prescription drugs and my health is very much improved. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

A. Red yeast rice (RYR) has been used in Chinese cuisine for over 1000 years. It has also been used in Chinese medicine for indigestion and circulation.

Modern research has demonstrated that RYR contains statin-type compounds and lowers cholesterol (Atherosclerosis, June 2015).  Although it acts much like simvastatin on blood lipids, RYR is less likely to cause muscle aches and fatigue (BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, online May 18, 2017).

Side Effects from Red Yeast Rice:

Some people are so sensitive to statins, however, that they react even to RYR. Here are some stories from readers to provide some perspective on this dietary supplement:

Barry in North Carolina had liver issues:

“I used red yeast rice for about a year to help lower cholesterol. I had no muscle pain, but was turned down for insurance when a blood test found mildly elevated liver enzymes.

“After stopping the supplement the liver tests returned to normal in just a few weeks, and I was able to get the insurance I applied for. I always prefer a ‘natural’ remedy when one is available, but we all need to remember that just because a chemical occurs in nature, that doesn’t mean it will always be harmless.”

Cindy reports muscle problems on RYR:

“I used RYR for a long time after having intolerance to Lipitor, Crestor and pravastatin to name a few. I had the same side effects with red yeast rice.

I have been off it for about 3 years. I now have arthritis and my muscles have not totally recovered.”

Bonnie has a similar story:

“I used red yeast rice for about 6 months after I was taken off Lipitor and Crestor because of muscle pain in my legs. The red yeast rice kept my cholesterol levels in check, but my leg pain came back big time. It has been several months since I stopped the red yeast rice, but my legs are still not back to normal.”

When Statins and Red Yeast Rice Aren’t Tolerable:

We offer more information about this and other nondrug approaches to cholesterol control in our book, Quick & Handy Home Remedies. It is available in our bookstore.

If you like the idea that Hippocrates proposed thousands of years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” then you will find our other books of great interest too:

Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life


Recipes & Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy

Our Holiday Gift Bundle is still in effect should you decide you would like to take advantage of our super sale price on all three books.

We discuss the pros and cons of statin-type drugs in our book:

Top Screwups

Share your own RYR or statin story below in the comment section.

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  1. Willy
    NY suburb

    My alternative doctor suggests an herb called Guggul. Anybody have any experience?
    Also what about policosinol? Have read good and bad. A friend says that 20 mg has been very effective. Should I start with 10?

  2. Jan F

    For years my doctor told me my cholesterol was too high. I was put on first one med and then another. Over time I think I tried every known med for cholesterol, all with the same problems. Aches and pains in my feet, legs and hands as well as memory problems. To this day I still have some of these problems which I feel was caused by the meds that the doctor prescribed.

    When I learned about Red Yeast Rice I decided to try it. Have been taking it for 10 years or so and have never had a problem with it. Had a check up in January with a new doctor I am not seeing. After doing the blood work she announced that for an 80 year of woman my cholesterol is very good.

    I use a brand that is tested by Consumer lab for the manufacturer.

  3. Tracy

    I suffered a small stroke last March. Even through my cholesterol levels were in the normal range the doctor prescribed a statin medicine. About 1 month later my whole body ached from my neck to my feet. My primary doctor suggested they do blood and urine tests. Everything was normal.

    A friend who years earlier had been taking statins and stopped because of the body pain suggested I google the medicine I was taking. Sure enough the first thing on the list of side effects was joint and muscle pain.

    I stopped taking it 4 to 6 weeks ago, but the pain lingers. I am (praying) that this will eventually clear up. I take Aleve three times a day and smoke medical pot daily just to get through the day. I’m tired of living like this!

  4. Sally
    Charlotte, NC

    My PCP at the time (6 yrs. ago) told me my cholesterol was a bit high and also told me to stop at the health food store on the way home to pick up some “Red Yeast Rice”. I’d never heard of it and asked her if it was something I cooked; she said “no, it’s a perfectly natural supplement that helps reduce cholesterol”. I wasn’t concerned about my cholesterol as I eat a healthy diet and workout regularly. High cholesterol runs on my mother’s side of the family, and her mother’s cholesterol went over 400 at one point. Grandma lived until 92, death not related to cholesterol, more so to an unnecessary surgery the nursing home insisted she needed (at 92???).

    Back to RYR. The doctor could not suggest a brand or dosing and told me to just pick up a bottle and follow the instructions (since when do doctors have the right to prescribe herbals which are not regulated by the FDA — or anyone for that matter?). That said, I picked up a couple bottles on the way home and began my RYR consumption per label instructions, a well known brand. After a short while I started feeling weaker and weaker, and my stomach was so upset, I could hardly get food down. Then I ran to the bathroom and started vomiting…RED. At first I wondered if I had a bleeding ulcer, but then it hit me that the only thing that changed in my diet was the RED yeast rice. I grabbed a bottle, opened a capsule and poured it into a glass of water. There it was, the exact color of what I threw up (there were no clots or anything to indicate blood in the toilet, just red dye as was in the RYR (yes, some manufacturers actually add red dye for effect). I knew immediately why my health had suddenly gone downhill. Further research indicated that every brand is different and many do not have the anti-cholesterol properties. Consumer Reports repeatedly had articles about the dangers of RYR. It can destroy your liver and kidneys and has done so to numerous people. I reiterate, it is not a regulated product. PLEASE do not take it!! Oh, and the FDA considers it a statin that should be regulated and actually managed to ban its sale in the US for a year. Guess who managed to win that battle? The multi-billionaire supplement industry of course!

  5. Lucy

    I will not take statins since I already have tremendous aches and pains probably caused by another heart drug I used to take. Prior to taking the heart meds did not have any pains, regularly exercised, did gardening, etc, lawn mowing. I was wondering if Sytrinol has any effect on cholesterol, either good or bad?

  6. Kathy

    I took several different statins over the last 18-20 years after a few years of refusing the meds. After recently reading so much negative information on this and website and other sources about statins’ side effects (e.g., muscle pain, cognitive issues), I convinced my doctor that I wanted to try RYR. The first 3 months resulted in lower LDL (<79), higher HDL (154), but slightly higher total cholesterol. Furthermore, I have had no negative side effects. My doctor is not concerned with my higher total because my very high HDL and good ratio and triglycerides more than make up for it. I’m hoping that future blood lab results will continue to confirm that RYR works for me.

  7. shirley
    buffalo ny 14216

    I tried RYR, and it did not work for me. I was told that it wasn’t approved by the FDA. The ratio of the ingredients vary from one manufactory to other.

  8. Beverly

    My experience with red yeast rice was that it was totally ineffective. I have been taking a very mild dose of a prescription statin, for more than 15 years, which keeps my cholesterol within normal limits. I am grateful for having had no side effects and no strokes up to my age of 82, although my grandmother died at 75 of a severe stroke, my mother suffered from multiple mini-strokes and my father was diabetic.

    • Ray

      I’ve been taking RYR for years and it has kept my cholesterol in a normal range. No side effects, no muscle pain. I take COQ10 with it.

    • Carol Miglionico
      North Carolina

      I thought the same way. I took RYR for 3 months with no change, after playing around I figured . I would do it just like statins at bed time and added 20 mg of policosanol. That worked my chol went to 145 had never been below 190.

  9. rafael

    Red yeast rice has been excellent for me, after a stroke I was put on Crestor with terrible side effects. I simply could not walk after a week. I told my Dr. that I preferred to die than to live with those side effects. He reluctantly took me off of all statin drugs, and suggested I try RYR. After three months my total cholesterol went from 240 to 182, and stayed there. No side effects.

  10. P Davis

    I tried Red Yeast Rice for a few months after disagreeing with my doctor about the need to start statins, based on my disturbing research about the side effects of statins (my good cholesterol has always really good, my combined is usually about 220, and my bad is nowhere near what is supposed to be dangerous.) I was below 200 to 190 once when I lost 40 pounds dieting. I do not take any medications, am athletic, and I eat properly at age 74, going on 50).

    Real or imagined, I thought I was having some muscle issues recently, and stopped the RYR, which was a nuisance anyway taking 4 per day. I have gone to niacin, two a day, as the same doctor recommended when I mentioned it before we had the disagreement about statins. I know the doctors follow the statistics regarding statins, but I am not convinced an otherwise healthy person needs to mess up his body based on my cholesterol readings. Comments, please.

  11. Adding

    Adding to your story about Red yeast rice, consumer reports on health [July2017] has RYR under 15 supplements consumers always avoid. There is little evidence to support it’s use-or it’s safety according to the publication.

  12. Charlene H Grafton

    After trying 2 different statins in 1997 with lots of intestinal issues, my doc said at least try Red Yeast Rice. So, I did, and in 2 1/2 days I was in the ER in Atlanta with rectal bleeding, had to stay overnight and the next day they wanted me to have a colonoscopy and I said good bye. I am a Nurse Case Mgr. and Medical Writer

  13. keith

    We blindly accept the “theory” that high LDL cholesterol is bad…we now know that high cholesterol does not cause heart disease…focus on inflammation if you want to maintain your good health.

  14. Mary
    South Boston, Va.

    I have been taking red rice yeast for several years and I don’t think I have had any side effects. My cholesterol has gone down. However according to Consumer La b(a vitamin testing company that you pay for reports) red rice yeast varies a lot with different brands.

    I just read their latest test and the brand I have been taking has increased in potency a lot. The lovastatins in the Red Rice Yeast has increased 85% since the last time they tested the brand.

  15. Tony

    Actually, it was my Internist that recommended RYR for me 15 yrs ago…
    When my cholesterol reach 239 he said I should take it..
    At my next checkup, my blood work showed my cholesterol had dropped to 171
    He was so excited, I thought he’d wet his pants…
    My cholesterol had dropped 25%…
    He said he was going to tell all his proteges

  16. Tony

    pravachol caused very severe hives needing hospitalisation for my wife but stopped immeediately after switching to crestor

  17. david

    Cholesterol is involved in hundreds of metabolic pathways, effecting nearly every cell in the body. Inhibiting cholesterol synthesis disrupts some of them, producing the side effects.

    I It is better to absorb excess cholesterol from the bloodstream, less likely to disrupt critical metabolic pathways in muscle or nervous system.

    We need studies of agents like cholestyramine randomized against statins. Those are expensive and need to be long term to measure the effect on cardiovascular morbidity. Results need to be stratified. Those with very high ldl or total cholesterol may benefit more from one. In people with low, the opposite may have the lower cardiovascular mortality.

  18. Richard
    farmington, Michigan

    Last fall of 2016, I was presccribed Atorvastatin for high cholesterol and soon developed extreme muscle weakness over the course of a month. I stopped taking the drug and my doctor told me that not taking a statin was life threatening so I began taking Livolo and within 21 days both my hands became literally paralized with accompanyimg pain; my left arm felt as though it was broken.

    I immediately stopped taking this poison and recovered in 7 days. Hopefully, I will not have permanent muscular damage which can happen with statins per my internet research which also indicates that some studies have found statins to be more harmful than beneficial and that approximately 25% of people with high cholesterol cannot take the side effects of a statin. I will never again take another statin drug; period.

    • Mary

      Richard and others with statin side effects: at least try taking ubiquinol in 200 mg for a month or two and notice if there is any improvement. Statins seriously deplete it. Canadian doctors require taking it along with a statin drug. Why not the US?

  19. Robert
    New York

    Read the history of RYR. It contains a natural statin, lovastatin. Merck claimed that they synthesized Lovastatin . A usual Big Pharma Lie.
    Merck went to court and blocked the mfg./sellers from mentioning this fact.
    RYR contains a statin..The natural product from fermentation..
    Look at the legal/court battle of RYR with Merck against Nuskin…
    Those who take RYR take a built in Statin…
    People’s Pharmacy should have divulged this…

  20. david

    I have oatmeal with flaxseed meal (ground every few days in a dedicated coffee grinder) a little olive oil and cinnamon for flavor. Last total cholesterol 101.

    Rosuvastatin muscle pain makes me exercise less. The mood elevating effect of walking briskly on hills with my dog is important to my quality of life. Hobbling around in pain is depressing, the exact opposite of what you need.

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