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Oct 26, 2023


Red yeast rice

Red Yeast Rice vs Statins for High Cholesterol

Red yeast rice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In recent years, its use as a natural alternative to statins has become more popular with some small studies suggesting the red yeast rice supplements may be effective in reducing cholesterol levels.

Red yeast rice is a dietary supplement made by fermenting rice with a strain of yeast called Monascus purpureus. The fermentation process produces naturally occurring compounds called monacolins. Monacolin K, the main monacolin in red yeast rice, is identical to the active ingredient in lovastatin and has comparable effects to low-dose statins.

However, the potency and purity of these supplements can vary widely which makes it difficult to ensure a consistent and effective dose and may increase the risk of side effects.

Why cholesterol matters

Cholesterol is a fat-like waxy substance that’s naturally present in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to make cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D. However, too much cholesterol can increase your likelihood of developing heart disease, a stroke, and other issues. High cholesterol can form fatty deposits in your blood, and over time these deposits thicken and restrict the blood flow in your arteries. A heart attack or stroke occurs when these deposits separate and create a clot.

There are no particular symptoms of high cholesterol. A blood test (lipid panel) is the only way to determine if you have it.

Men should start getting tested for high cholesterol between the ages of 20–35 years, and women should start between 20–45 years old. Adults with normal cholesterol levels can go 5 years without needing another test.

Statins vs red yeast rice

Statins are the first-line treatment therapy for treating high cholesterol. They work by blocking a liver enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. This enzyme is responsible for producing cholesterol in the body, so when it is blocked, less cholesterol is produced. This leads to a reduction in the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream, which can help lower the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

Currently there are 7 statins available on the market:

Red yeast rice, on the other hand, works by inhibiting the same enzyme that statins target, but in a different way.

Naturally occurring compounds called monacolins in red yeast rice block the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme, but they do so in a less targeted and less potent way than statins.

Monacolin K, the main monacolin in red yeast rice, has been shown to inhibit the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme to some extent. However, the concentration of monacolin K in red yeast rice supplements can vary greatly, which can make it difficult to achieve a consistent and effective dose.

In short, statins are more potent and targeted, while red yeast rice is less potent and less targeted due to the variable concentrations of active ingredients.

Which is better at lowering cholesterol?

The efficacy of statins and red yeast rice supplements in lowering cholesterol levels can vary depending on the individual, the dose, and the duration of treatment.

Studies have shown that statins are generally more effective than red yeast rice supplements in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. According to a meta-analysis of 93 studies, statin therapy led to an average reduction in LDL cholesterol levels of 38–55%. In comparison, red yeast rice supplements were found to lower LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 22–30%.

Since the potency and purity of red yeast rice supplements can vary widely, it is difficult to compare their efficacy to statin medications. The amount of active ingredient, monacolin K, can vary significantly between different brands and batches of supplements, and some may contain other contaminants that can be harmful.

Statins have been extensively studied and have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, in addition to lowering cholesterol levels. While there is some evidence to suggest that red yeast rice supplements may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

While red yeast rice supplements may be a natural alternative to statins for some people, statins are generally considered to be more effective and are the first-line treatment for high cholesterol. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific needs and health conditions.

Comparing statins with red yeast rice

Statins Red yeast rice
  • Statins are highly effective at lowering cholesterol levels, and can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.
  • Statins are available in both generic and brand-name versions, making them a relatively affordable option for many people.
  • Statins are well-studied, and have been shown to be safe and effective for long-term use.
  • Red yeast rice may be a natural alternative to statins for people who prefer to avoid prescription medications.
  • Red yeast rice has been shown to lower cholesterol levels in some studies, although the evidence is not as strong as for statins.
  • Red yeast rice may have other health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
  • Statins can cause side effects in some people, including muscle pain, weakness, and liver damage.
  • Statins may interact with other medications, including some antibiotics, antifungal medications, and blood thinners.
  • Statins may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions, including liver disease, kidney disease, and certain types of cancer.
  • The quality and potency of red yeast rice supplements can vary widely, making it difficult to know exactly what you are getting.
  • Red yeast rice can cause side effects in some people, including stomach upset, headache, and muscle pain.
  • Red yeast rice may interact with other medications, including some antibiotics and blood thinners.
  • Red yeast rice should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as people with liver disease or a history of kidney problems.
Side effects
  • Myopathy (skeletal muscle disorder)
  • Myalgias (muscle pain and/or soreness)
  • Arthralgia (joint pain)
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Headache
  • Cold-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal pain
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Weakness
  • Muscle damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Gas
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain and/or discomfort

Can I take red yeast rice and a statin together?

It is generally not recommended to take red yeast rice supplements in combination with a statin, as this can increase the risk of side effects and other complications. This is because red yeast rice contains monacolins, which are similar to the active ingredient in lovastatin.

Taking both red yeast rice and a statin together can increase the amount of monacolins in the body, potentially leading to an overdose of the active ingredient. This can increase the risk of muscle damage and other side effects, such as liver problems.

If you are already taking a statin, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a red yeast rice supplement or any other new medication or supplement. They can help you determine if this is a safe and appropriate option for you, and can monitor your cholesterol levels and any potential side effects while you are taking both medications.

Should I go the natural route and take red yeast rice instead of statins?

The use of red yeast rice supplements for managing high cholesterol is not generally recommended by doctors, since these supplements haven’t gone through the pharmaceutical drug approval procedure. The FDA has issued warnings about the use of red yeast rice supplements, as some products may contain unregulated levels of monacolin K, which is the most potent and well-studied monacolin. This can lead to variability in the cholesterol-lowering effects of the supplement, as well as potential safety concerns.

However, supplements may be sold regardless of their efficacy or safety, unlike medications that have received FDA approval. Keep in mind that some red yeast products may contain very little monacolin K and may not even have much of an impact on your cholesterol levels.

Speak with your doctor

Red yeast rice can be alluring due to its "natural" quality, however, you must be very cautious before taking it. There hasn't been a lot of research on it by experts and it's unknown what dosage is best and how safe it will be over time.

It’s challenging to make definitive claims regarding the efficacy and/or safety of red yeast rice extract due to the possibility that the contents of different brands may differ greatly. Whereas statins are considered safe and effective when taken appropriately (as prescribed by your doctor).

Talk to your doctor today about using statins and send your prescription to Marley Drug. Save up to 95% compared to your local pharmacy by using Marley Drug.

Marley Drug provides free nationwide shipping, allowing you to receive your medication at no additional cost straight to your door.

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