Red Yeast Rice Benefits for Cholesterol Reduction
In Western cultures, the phrase red yeast rice may not mean very much. However, it has been a food source and medicinal aid in Eastern parts of the world for centuries. Since ancient times, red yeast rice benefits have been thought to include gastrointestinal remedies, health of the stomach and spleen as well as circulation. Essentially, red yeast rice is nothing more than a particular type of yeast, known as monascus purpurus, that has been grown on rice. That may not seem impressive, but the resulting fermentation leads to the formation of a powerful compound known as monocolin k, which has caused not only a shockwave in the health industry in terms of its use among cholesterol lowering supplements, but also some controversy.
Most natural cholesterol lowering supplements are simply that. They are supplements – which means that both their regulation and status are different from medications. However, red yeast rice benefits are so potent that they have broken the mold in terms of just how this classification system works. One byproduct or fermenting red yeast rice, monocolin k, is also known as lovastatin, the active cholesterol reducing ingredient in the popular prescription medication Mevacor, according to The Mayo Clinic. This has led to a lot of head scratching on the part of U.S. officials who have had a hard time determining just whether or not red yeast rice can be classified as a supplement or a drug. Needless to say, this controversy (or rather, a battle with drug companies) have mad obtaining red yeast rice in the United States rather difficult.
Studies have shown that red yeast rice benefits in terms of cholesterol reduction are substantial indeed. One study in particular found that over a three month period, bad cholesterol levels in participants using red yeast rice extract dipped by 22%, and their total cholesterol was reduced by 16%, according to WebMD. Since cholesterol medications are some of the biggest selling drugs in the world, it is not a surprise that drug companies are perhaps less than thrilled at the idea of a natural product that performs the same function as their costly products.
Bad cholesterol has been attributed to an increased risk of heart related diseases and strokes as well as heart attacks. LDL cholesterol in particular has a tendency to affix itself to plaques that form in the arteries, thereby inhibiting blood flow. There are many natural remedies to combat the affixing activities of LDL cholesterol. For instance, plant sterols supplements are amongst the most popular, and unlike red yeast rice, regulating authorities have condoned their use to the extent of allowing heart healthy labels to be attached to food products fortified with them. And there are many foods, herbs and spices that can be healthy parts of diets to lower cholesterol. Similarly to red yeast rice benefits, some edibles contain compounds that can positively affect LDL levels and reduce cholesterol naturally. The relationship between garlic and cholesterol, for instance, has been studied extensively and it is thought that the allicin compound contained in garlic may be responsible for its lipid lowering effects. However, unfortunately while sterols and garlic have enjoyed their fare share of clinical trials, few studies have been conducted to validate and study red yeast rice benefits, partially because of its limited use in the United States.
For this reason, WebMD stresses that long term side effects and risks associated with red yeast rice use have not been conclusively studied and therefore its use cannot be deemed completely safe. It has been hypothesized that since the active component in the supplement that is responsible for cholesterol related red yeast rice benefits is the same compound found in medications that lead to side effects that symptoms such as muscle pain may occur. This is further emphasized due to the fact that red yeast rice supplements are difficult if not impossible to obtain in the United States; and, that questionable sources from overseas could potentially be tainted or contain varying amounts of the active ingredient which can cause unknown effects.
There is little doubt that red yeast rice can have a dramatic impact on cholesterol numbers. However, its use has not yet been deemed safe, and it is important that if you are considering the natural, fermented extract that you discuss it with your doctor, especially if you are taking medications to lower cholesterol. It is possible that the natural lipid lowering effects of red yeast rice may lead to risk factors that you have not yet considered. In time, it is possible that more studies will be conducted however that will restore red yeast rice to the medicinal powerhouse that Eastern civilizations have known it to be for hundreds of years.