Red Yeast Rice, get your cholesterol down

Cholesterol is only one of numerous risk factors for heart disease. However, physicians can’t do much about some of your other risk factors, such as your family history. They can prescribe medications that will lower your cholesterol. Many people are reluctant to take a statin drug because they worry about possible side effects. Can you find other approaches to get your cholesterol down?

How Can You Get Your Cholesterol Down?

Q. Thank you for your advice on controlling cholesterol. I’m a 77-year-old woman of normal weight. My cholesterol hovered around 200, even with a strict diet and getting plenty of exercise. Total 197, HDL 77, LDL 101.

My primary doctor said this must be hereditary and wanted to put me on a statin. Instead, I started taking red yeast rice and sprinkled at least 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and at least 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper (to improve absorption) on each meal.

After doing this for about four months, continuing my exercise and strict diet, my total cholesterol dropped to 162, HDL 77, LDL 76 and triglycerides 47. My pharmacist confirmed that red yeast rice would not interfere with any of my other medications. I hope this helps others.

What Red Yeast Rice Does:

A. We are impressed with your results. You were not in bad shape to start with. An HDL of 77 is considered excellent. So are your other lipid levels.

Not everyone agrees that, as an older person, you would need to get your cholesterol down as much as possible. However, you seem to have found the right approach.

Red yeast rice contains natural statins. A meta-analysis of 13 randomized, placebo-controlled trials concluded that “red yeast rice is an effective and relatively safe approach” for high cholesterol (Li et al, PLOS One, June 4, 2014).

The other agent you used to get your cholesterol down is also interesting. The active ingredient in turmeric (curcumin) has been shown to reduce triglycerides and raise beneficial HDL cholesterol (Simental-Mendia et al, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, online, Nov. 29, 2017).

Learn More:

You can learn more about red yeast rice and other nondrug approaches in our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health. It was wise of you to check with the pharmacist about interactions. Many natural products can interact with prescription medications.

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  1. Frederick

    Red yeast rice is used to make statins….
    You can have thec same bad side effects as with STATINS..
    Maybe even worse because Red yeast rice is not regulated when you buy it you don’t know how strong or weak …or the quality of the product…

  2. Gary

    For decades, I have been on a plant-based, whole grain and legume diet, and I do not need to take statins or any of the “wonder” drugs that create dementia and liver problems. All medications have side affects, and some are very serious to the point of life threatening. I am now 81, and when I was 60 a doctor attempted to put me on statins, and I refused to go on them. Consider the cost of 21 years of statins,($16,000 plus), not to mention the harm that they would have caused. It is a triumph. I have $16,000 plus, which the greedy drug companies do not have, and my quality of life is excellent. I just had a blood test, and my primary care doctor has not even suggested or prescribed any statins.

  3. M

    My husband and I had high cholesterol and started putting a heaping tablespoon of granulated lecithin in our smoothie each morning. Our doctor was amazed when he saw the results of our blood tests, and decided we didn’t need a statin!

  4. Helen

    Remember that other conditions esp hypothyroid and liver problems also raise cholesterol. These conditions have to be sorted before cholesterol stabilizes. Taking statins only makes things worsethen you need something else to counter the new symptoms. Dog chasing tail!

  5. Paul

    Try to eat oat bran in your diet for lowering the cholesterol. It helped me.

  6. barbara L.

    Please remember to say that some people are allergic to Red rice yeast like I was .

    B. Layden
    Phoenix, AZ


    • ladyliza

      Perhaps it wasn’t the red yeast rice you were allergic to but the fillers and coating instead. You might want to try a different brand.

  7. Audrey A

    My sister and I both lowered our cholesterol, not by avoiding cholesterol in foods but by eating oatmeal (religiously) and to the best of our ability, eliminating saturated fats. We each dropped our numbers by over 50 points. I also drink a moderate glass of red wine and dropped other alcohol. Do I miss butter? Yes. Do I miss that occasional gin and tonic? Yes. Am I glad that I don’t need to take statins? YES!

  8. Ginny

    Has anyone had any exerience with Bergamot for lowering cholesterol?

  9. Marilyn
    Wetmore, MI

    My husband took Lovastatin for 10 plus years and had nightmares a few times per week which became progressively more intense the last few years on the med, including jumping up out of bed, throwing punches, shaking, crying out/yelling.

    He had a stressful job and I attributed the situation to that until I read about the side effects of Lovastatin. He stopped the drug with doctor approval but then resumed when his test results, according to the doctor, necessitated same. Within 10 nights the nightmares resumed. He is now off the drug and having lost weight and eating LOTS of salads.

    Doing well. Sorry, but I do not know his numbers as of this post. But his doctor was of the opinion that “everyone should be on statins.” A family friend described his nightmare nights with his wife awakening him and my husband asked Lovastatin? Answer yes. Neither guy remembered these nightmare situations the next morning.

  10. Michelle
    Marquette, Michigan

    The 77 yr old mentioned above had excellent lipid values. For a physician to tell her otherwise is just plain wrong. Cholesterol goes up as we age and that is completely normal. We need higher cholesterol in our brains to function properly. Too low of cholesterol has been shown to be problematic.

    Her levels were perfectly fine. She had no need to lower her cholesterol. If she arrived at age 77 without any heart disease, then she missed her window of opportunity to have an MI.

  11. Paul R

    We did the red yeast extract thing four days and it knocked our cholesterol out: but it caused us debilitating muscle pain and I think it hurt my heart muscles. If you can’t move due to statin related muscle pain STOP THE STATIN!

  12. Sid
    Orangevale, CA 95662

    I am aware of a study you have publicized wherein a statin that was studied absolutely lowered cholesterol as desired yet produced little difference between the statin and the control groups as far as longevity and heart incidents. In other words, it controlled cholesterol perfectly but still had the same number of deaths and heart incidents.

    To me, statins are not worth the side effects of confusion, memory loss, brain fog, and muscle problems if it will not extend your life. So why are you talking about Red Rice Yeast, a natural statin?

  13. J. David A
    Springfield, MO

    Lovastatin, has so many dementia problems and is the distillation of red rice yeast that before starting this concoction, get a sleep study – repeat after a month on the therapy. Recipes vary- some may be good – others not so much. I have seen careers destroyed from Lovastatin.

  14. Cathy

    I agree with Joan from SC. Red yeast rice is still a statin with all the potential issues of a Rx statin AND as a supplement it is less regulated than taking a Rx statin.

  15. Tim
    N Richland Hills TX

    Amazing. I read your column this morning. Prior to playing golf yesterday, I sprayed my arms with Neitragena 70. Arms itched, broke out in rash, etc.. Pulled spray can out of golf bag this morning, YES 6% oxybezone!!! Many thanks for your column.

  16. Sarjla

    What about Cinnamon to reduce Cholesterol?

  17. "Patrice"

    Some formulations of red yeast rice have contaminants, so I have been loathe to take it. My primary care doctor put me on chia seeds 1-2 T daily and ground flax seeds. The flax seeds are not very tasty, but they can be put into homemade bread.

  18. Tom

    I tried red yeast rice and found that I was getting severe muscle pain in my legs. My Doctor suggested quitting the Red Yeast Rice, and the pain stopped. Remember, it acts like a statin.

  19. Phillip Jerome B.

    Would like to hear your opinion on Cholesterol-lowering supplements made up primarily of plant sterols and plant stanols. One manufacturer claims it lowers dietary cholesterol, and a second product made by the same company claims to reduce hereditary cholesterol (cholesterol produced in the liver) by adding Pantethine to the formula.

    Any thoughts or do you know of any clinical studies to back up these claim?

  20. Phil

    I used Apple Cider vinegar at regular meals, cut out all “white foods” and sugars, with exercise. Much cheaper. LDL 84. HDL 50. 155 lbs. Feel good at 64 .

  21. Brenda
    Dayton Ky.

    Red Yeast Rice can have same side effects as statin drug. This is very dangerous. I would not recommend it to anyone.

  22. victoria

    I just read recently in a health magazine I picked up at a local health food store about the toxicity of red rice yeast. Unfortunately, I gave the magazine away. Buyer, beware, and do your research before implementing anything into your diet!! Statins may be serious but so are some supplements.

  23. Carrie

    Congratulations on getting your cholesterol down. A warning, though, to those who get heartburn/reflux often. Black pepper is a trigger food for heartburn for many people, and turmeric is a stomach irritant to some also. They might want to go a little lighter on those two.

    I have heartburn and can’t take heartburn meds without getting a serious heart arrhythmia as a side effect. (I rely mostly on papaya tablets and eating carefully. I do okay that way.) I have to avoid black pepper and turmeric, unfortunately. :-)

  24. Joan
    South Carolina

    Red Yeast Rice – yes it is a ‘natural’ statin BUT it can have the same side effects as the pharmaceutical statins. Took it for several months (several years ago) with no effect on cholesterol numbers and developed horrible myopathy. Thanks to a doctor,I figured it out, got off it, and on CoQ10.

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