When red yeast rice is fermented under certain conditions, it may contain high levels of lovastatin, a potent cholesterol-lowering drug. Because lovastatin is an approved medication for lowering cholesterol, red yeast rice supplements that contain large amounts of lovastatin are effective for this use. Possible side effects of the supplement may include indigestion, gas, and muscle pain.
What Is Red Yeast Rice?
Red yeast rice is a product that results from the fermentation of rice using a certain type of yeast. It is commonly used in Asian cooking. When red yeast rice is fermented using certain strains of yeast under specific controlled conditions, it may contain high levels of lovastatin, a potent cholesterol-lowering drug, along with similar compounds. Because lovastatin is a prescription medication, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers any red yeast rice supplement that contains a significant amount of lovastatin to be "an unapproved drug," not a dietary supplement.
As mentioned, when fermented under certain conditions with specific strains of yeast, red yeast rice may contain significant amounts of mevinic acids, including lovastatin. Lovastatin is an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor, more commonly known as a statin. Statins work by blocking HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme that controls the rate of cholesterol production in the body. This causes the liver to make less cholesterol.
Red yeast rice may also contain plant sterols, such as beta-sitosterol, which are compounds that may help lower cholesterol. It may also contain isoflavones (estrogen-like plant compounds). However, most of the cholesterol-lowering effects of the supplement are probably due to lovastatin or related compounds.
Not all red yeast rice contains lovastatin and other statin-like compounds. Most that is sold for use in food, such as in Asian grocery stores, contains little or no lovastatin. However, many supplements are fermented carefully in order to increase the lovastatin content.
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