Red yeast rice alert

While there have been some positive reports in the media lately about the cholesterol-reducing effects of red yeast rice, Consumer Lab has issued a very concerning report.

Because Consumer Lab is a subscription website (incidentally, the $20 per year membership fee is money well spent for insightful tests on many supplements, though new reports only come out a handful of times per year), I won't discuss the results of their red yeast rice in its entirety.

However, Consumer Lab testing uncovered several disturbing findings:

--The lovastatin content varied by a factor of 100, from 0.1 mg per tablet/capsule in one brand up to 10.6 mg in another brand. By FDA regulations, lovastatin is a drug and NO red yeast rice preparation is supposed to contain ANY lovastatin. Nonetheless, despite the marketing of supplement manufacturers, it is probably the lovastatin that is largely responsible for the LDL-reducing effect. The monacolins or mevinolins in red yeast rice add little, if any, further LDL-reducing effect.

--Several preparations contain a potential kidney toxin called citrinin. The Walgreen's product, specifically, contained substantial quantities of this toxin.

Interestingly, the FDA has taken repeated action against red yeast rice manufacturers and distributors because they continue to contain lovastatin. In the FDA's most recent action in August, 2007, for instance, Swanson's product and Sunburst Biorganics' Cholestrix, were both sent letters to stop selling their product because it contained lovastatin.

The Consumer Lab findings would explain the enormous variation in LDL-reducing effect of various red yeast rice products. In my experience, some work and reduce LDL 40 mg/dl or so, some fail to reduce LDL at all, others generate a modest effect, e.g., 5-10 mg/dl LDL reduction.

In effect, red yeast rice IS a statin drug, albeit a highly variable and weak one. Although readers of The Heart Scan Blog know that I am a big fan of nutritional supplements and self-empowerment in health, I am a bigger fan of truth. I despise B--- S---- of the sort that emits from some nutritional supplement manufacturers and drug companies.

I am puzzled by much of the public's readiness to embrace a statin drug if it comes from a supplement company while avoiding it if it comes from a drug manufacturer. Personally, I do not like the drug industry, their questionable (at best) ethics, their aggressive marketing tactics, their sleazy sales people.

But, in this instance, if a statin effect is desired, I'd reach for generic lovastatin before I purchased red yeast rice. The Consumer Lab report tells us that red yeast rice IS essentially a statin drug, an inconsistent one that often contains a potential toxin.

Comments (9) -

  • Jenny

    7/2/2008 1:09:00 PM |

    Thanks for blogging on this extremely important topic. The news coverage of this story was REALLY garbled.

    Here's a related question. Have you seen anything about the purity of the Vitamin D being sold in oil capsules. As enthusiastic as I am about it--I've had my levels measured and the supplementation has definitely raise them, I'm concerned about what contaminants might be in the pills since they all come from those Chinese factories full of adulterants.

    Any data on this?

  • sjbock

    7/2/2008 3:12:00 PM |

    One possible explanation as to why someone would purchase a supplement rather than a prescription drug is that the person has no health insurance and cannot afford or find a doctor who will write the prescription required for the drug.

  • mike V

    7/2/2008 7:44:00 PM |

    Of course, it is worth mentioning that lovastatin  originates naturally in RYR, and only became a drug courtesy of big pharma reinvention and patents?

  • Michael

    7/2/2008 8:27:00 PM |

    My cardiologist recommended I try Red Yeast Rice, as an alternative to Zocor, just to see if it can raise my HDL some and possibly push my LDL/Triglycerides down a little (they are already normal).

    Several weeks ago there was an article in regard to a major Chinese study on RYR -

    They used a specific type of RYR, Xuezhikang. The data from this study showed that RYR had better results than statins (In Western studies) in preventing a repeat heart attack. There was also a lower risk of mortality and cancer (which is rare to see in any statin study).

    And it is theorized that the non-statin components of RYR is why there is such a benefit. Most RYR studies have shown than the lovastatin dosage can be really small, yet have an equivalent or greater effect than a normal dosing of a statin. Lower dosage = less side effects, which is why many people prefer trying RYR over statins.

    As for the consumer labs report, are you allowed to post some of the brands that passed the test at least? Or several that didn't? I am currently trying RYR from Thorne, as they supposedly have good testing labs and also source their RYR from the US. But there is no actual way for me to know how good or bad their RYR is...

  • Mo

    7/4/2008 12:14:00 PM |

    If mainstream method cholesterol lowering is poisonous via supplemental or pharmacuetical methods, it shows that essentially this is slow poison. Not meant to be!

  • Dr. Brad

    7/7/2008 3:01:00 PM |

    As a physician and advocate for self-care and an integrative approach toward managing your health, I totally agree with your perspective.   Why take a nutritional supplement that contains similar family of compounds "HMG Co-A Reductase Inhibitors" when all that you get is additional risk due to quality assurance problems. A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings actually showed that lifestyle change + RYR was as good as high dose Zocor in lowering LDL cholesterol, and ensured greater weight loss than Zocor.   Many people then assumed that RYR was the way to go because it’s ‘less toxic’—as I wrote in my blog, in my view, this is the wrong conclusion.

  • Anonymous

    7/9/2008 9:54:00 AM |

    I just received my NMR lipoprofile results and I am not sure what to look for in the numbers.  Any help would be appreciated:

    LDL-P           584
    Small LDL-P     242
    Chol Total      121
    LDL-C           52 (FASTING)
    HDL-C           51
    Triglycerdes    91
    LDL particle size 21.8
    large HDL-P     10.8
    large VHDL-P     0.7

    I am a type 2 diabetic and not taking any medicine for it and lost 80 lbs over the years.

  • Anonymous

    4/11/2009 5:40:00 PM |

    I was surprised that no one has mentioned anything in this blog about the total phytochemistry of Red Yeast Rice, where the deep red purple color of the extract may ahve something to do with its bioactivity, and how it was used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) many years before Lovastatin was sold as drug for blood stasis (this means in TCM thickened blood that clots easily). Red Yeast Rice is known to contain a phytochemical array of flavonoids, phytosterols, and other monacolins besides the K. The flavonoids are the compounds that give RYR the reddish-purple pigment color. A wide array of flavonoids from many sources are known to modulate both cholesterol and lipid metabolism, while having blood thinning effects and being able to decrease smooth muscle cell growth of the arterial vessels (see grapefruit flavonoids and cholesterol lowering studies). Phytosterols are known to have cholesterol lowering effects. Other monacolins are in RRY and FDA even has allowed or not objected to the use of another type of monacolin (J) from Red Yeast Rice to be considered for use as a dietary supplement according to a letter submitted to the agency. It could be that the synergy of all of these components could be working to lower cholesterol. A side note is that the edible Oyster mushroom contains monacolin K and is considered a lipid lowering botanical with safe, food use.

  • buy jeans

    11/2/2010 9:18:06 PM |

    In effect, red yeast rice IS a statin drug, albeit a highly variable and weak one. Although readers of The Heart Scan Blog know that I am a big fan of nutritional supplements and self-empowerment in health, I am a bigger fan of truth. I despise B--- S---- of the sort that emits from some nutritional supplement manufacturers and drug companies