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How Long Does It Take for Red Yeast Rice to Lower Cholesterol?

Reviewed on 11/18/2020

What Is Red Yeast Rice?

Red yeast rice dietary supplements work if they contain lots of a chemical called monacolin K. The red yeast rice dietary supplements available in the U.S. contain very little monacolin K because of FDA rules, however, and may as a result have little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels.
Red yeast rice dietary supplements work if they contain lots of a chemical called monacolin K. The red yeast rice dietary supplements available in the U.S. contain very little monacolin K because of FDA rules, however, and may as a result have little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Red yeast rice is produced by cultivating the yeast species Monascus purpureus on rice. It is often touted as a natural treatment to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). 

How Does Red Yeast Rice Work to Lower Cholesterol? 

Red yeast rice naturally contains monacolin K, a compound similar to lovastatin. Lovastatin is an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor (a statin drug), a type of drug commonly used to treat high cholesterol

Red yeast rice also contains:

  • Sterols: plant-based substances known to lower cholesterol
  • Isoflavones: substances that are considered phytoestrogens and anti-oxidant compounds
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: “good” fats that can help reduce cholesterol

The recommended dose of red yeast rice is 1,200 mg taken orally twice daily with food. In studies, patients started to see a reduction in cholesterol levels at about 12 weeks. 

However, in all the studies that showed red yeast rice helped lower cholesterol, all the products studied contained substantial amounts of monacolin K. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers monacolin K to be a pharmaceutical product, and has concluded that red yeast rice products that contain more than trace amounts of monacolin K are considered unapproved new drugs and cannot be sold legally as dietary supplements. Thus, the red yeast rice dietary supplements available in the U.S. contain very little monacolin K and may have little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels.

What Are Side Effects of Red Yeast Rice?

Side effects of red yeast rice include:

What Are Risks of Red Yeast Rice Use?

Red yeast rice is often marketed as a natural supplement; however, its use can carry risks: 

  • May cause muscle, liver, and kidney problems similar to those caused by statins
  • Red yeast rice products should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding 
  • Red yeast rice products should not be used in patients who take prescription statin drugs 
  • Because it’s a supplement, the contents of red yeast rice products are not standardized, making it impossible to know the quantity or quality of the ingredients 
    • Most products state only the amount of red yeast rice on the label, and not the amount of monacolin K, which is what can help lower cholesterol
    • Some red yeast rice products have been found to contain citrinin, a contaminant that can cause kidney failure
    • In the past, the FDA has warned consumers to avoid red yeast rice products promoted on the internet as treatments for high cholesterol because some contained lovastatin, a prescription medication
  • Red yeast rice may interact with many medications, including:

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Reviewed on 11/18/2020
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