Does Red Yeast Rice Work?

Many people wonder if red yeast rice works. The product, when fermented under certain conditions, can contain lovastatin, a prescription "statin" cholesterol medication. Because it contains lovastatin, red yeast rice is effective at lowering high cholesterol. However, the FDA considers supplements that contain lovastatin to be unapproved drugs, and any company that makes these supplements is not complying with FDA regulations.

Does Red Yeast Rice Really Work? -- An Overview

Red yeast rice is a supplement usually used to lower cholesterol. It seems to be effective for this use, but only because it contains lovastatin (Mevacor®), a prescription statin medication. Some red yeast rice supplements do not contain lovastatin, but these products probably don't help to lower high cholesterol.

Red Yeast Rice and Lovastatin

Some red yeast rice supplements contain lovastatin, a prescription "statin" cholesterol medication. This is not physically added to these supplements; instead, it is produced naturally when the red yeast rice is fermented. Not all red yeast rice products contain lovastatin. In fact, most red yeast rice that is used in food contains little or no lovastatin. 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 result can be made to contain high levels of lovastatin. This is how red yeast rice supplements that are designed to lower cholesterol are made. Supplements that do not contain lovastatin are probably not effective at lowering cholesterol.
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 lovastatin but have not been approved by the FDA, these supplements are considered "unapproved drugs," not dietary supplements. Currently, many of these supplements do not contain lovastatin in order to comply with the FDA requirements, but, as mentioned, these products are not likely to be effective at lowering cholesterol.
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