Benefits of Red Yeast Rice
There are several benefits of red yeast rice. However, it is commonly used for lowering cholesterol. When red yeast rice is fermented under specific conditions, it can contain high amounts of lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug. However, the red yeast rice that is typically used in Asian food does not contain high levels of lovastatin and probably won't help with cholesterol.
What Are the Red Yeast Rice Benefits?Red yeast rice allegedly provides a wide variety of health benefits. Most commonly, it is used to lower cholesterol, although people may take it for other reasons as well.
The type of red yeast rice used in Asian foods is significantly different from the type used in many red yeast rice supplements. Red yeast rice is produced from the fermentation of rice using a certain type of yeast. If the fermentation conditions are carefully controlled and specific strains of yeast are used, the product can be made to contain high levels of lovastatin (Mevacor®), a prescription medication. This is how the supplements are designed to lower cholesterol.
Supplements that do not contain lovastatin are probably not effective at lowering cholesterol.
Many people are interested in red yeast rice supplements as a natural and safe alternative to statins -- a popular and effective group of prescription cholesterol medications. However, these supplements (at least the ones that are effective at lowering cholesterol) are not significantly different from prescription statin drugs because they contain lovastatin. In fact, prescription lovastatin may be just as "natural" as red yeast rice because it was isolated from a certain strain of fungus.
In addition, red yeast rice may have all the usual side effects of statins, including muscle or liver problems (see Red Yeast Rice Side Effects).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken action against several manufacturers of red yeast rice supplements that contain lovastatin. Because they contain this medication but have not been approved by the FDA, these supplements are considered "unapproved drugs," not dietary supplements. Currently, many red yeast rice supplements do not contain any lovastatin in order to comply with the FDA requirements, but these products are not likely to be effective at lowering cholesterol.