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In this study, 25 people with mildly elevated cholesterol were instructed to follow a Mediterranean diet and increase their physical activity (walk briskly for 20 to 30 minutes or cycle three to five times per week). After four weeks of dietary changes and physical exercise, participants were randomly assigned to a supplement of red yeast rice extract (containing 10 mg of compounds called monacolins) and 10 mg coenzyme Q10, or placebo, for four weeks. Participants were then reassigned to the alternative group, so that each participant experienced a trial of the supplement.
Participants’ cholesterol levels were checked before and after treatment. Compared with the placebo group, LDL cholesterol decreased by 22% and total cholesterol decreased by 12.45% in the red yeast rice group. No significant changes in liver, kidney, or muscle function were observed.
For the short-term treatment of mildly elevated cholesterol in Mediterranean people, the study authors conclude “a nutraceutical containing 10 mg of monacolins appears to safely reduce cholesterolemia,” though they add that these results need to be confirmed in larger and longer studies.
What’s in the red yeast rice? Yeast grown on rice, Monascus purpureus yeast, produces a number of substances including monacolins that have healthy effects on cholesterol. In fact, monacolins act similarly to some conventional medications (statin drugs) used to treat cholesterol disorders. Red yeast rice also contains substances known as sterols, isoflavones, and monounsaturated fatty acids, all of which may help lower LDL cholesterol, according to the study authors.
Take precautions with “natural” options. People with high cholesterol may turn to natural options in order to avoid medications and their unwanted side effects, but it is important to realize that many dietary supplements act like drugs. Some supplements may have a beneficial effect on health but may also cause harmful side effects or interact negatively with medication. For instance, in this study, people with known thyroid, liver, kidney, or muscle diseases were not allowed to participate as red yeast rice may, as is the case with some conventional cholesterol medications, cause problems with these organs. Further, the quality, purity, and formulations of red yeast rice products sold in stores or online vary greatly and may include different amounts or types of active ingredients, or may even be contaminated with a substance that may damage the kidneys.
Talk with a doctor first. Talk with a knowledgeable doctor about your cholesterol and before taking any supplement to learn more about the risks and benefits. Learn about interactions that may be caused when taking a supplement with other supplements or with medications.
(Nutr Res 2013;33:622-8)