A natural cholesterol-lowering supplement called red yeast rice could pose the same health risks to users as statin drugs, a new study contends.
Red yeast rice could increase risk of muscle injury or liver damage, Italian researchers reported after reviewing 13 years of patient data.
“These findings raise the hypothesis that the safety profile of red yeast rice is highly similar to that of synthetic statins and warrants further investigations to finally characterize the safety profile of red yeast rice,” the researchers concluded.
American heart experts said it’s not surprising that the researchers discovered adverse reactions to red yeast rice that are similar to those produce by statins. That’s because one of the compounds in red yeast rice – monacolin K – has the same chemical structure as the statin drug lovastatin, said Dr. Paul Thompson.
“Statins actually exist in nature, in fungi and molds and stuff like that,” said Thompson, an American College of Cardiology fellow. “Patients need to know there is lovastatin in this product.”
Red yeast rice is concocted from yeast grown on rice. U.S. sales of red yeast rice dietary supplements totaled about $20 million a year in both 2008 and 2009, the most recent years for which data are available.
The FDA views red yeast rice products containing more than trace amounts of monacolin K as unapproved new drugs, since they are chemically identical to lovastatin, and cannot be sold legally as dietary supplements. But dozens of red yeast rice products remain on the market. And products tested as recently as 2011 have been found to contain monacolin K in substantial amounts.
Patients with high cholesterol often buy red yeast rice over the counter when they’re concerned about the side effects of prescription statins, said Dr. Robert Eckel, a spokesman for the American Heart Association.
Thompson said he prescribes a fair amount of red yeast rice in his clinic as a way to ease reluctant patients into statin treatment. However, Eckel said, “The products are not as well-controlled and the dosages are variable.”
The new study appears in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
I have written previous blogs about red yeast rice but I thought the information was worth repeating, in light of this study.
Red yeast rice is lovastatin. Supplement companies get away from FDA regulations is by not measuring the amount of monacolin K in their products. As noted above the dosages vary from lot to lot, even from capsule to capsule. Some capsules can have as much as 20 mg of lovastatin while others may contain none. (The typical starting dose for statin drugs is 5-10 mg daily)
The fermenting process for red yeast rice can also produce citrinin, a fungus that can cause kidney failure or even death.
The Bottom Line:
Don’t take red yeast rice for any reason. If you want to lower your cholesterol and LDL levels change your lifestyle and investigate why your cholesterol is high. If it’s not the diet, then low thyroid function or dysbiosis are the next most common causes. If you are unwilling to change and still want to lower your cholesterol, then I prefer the drug to red yeast rice.
Source: January 24, 2017 National Institutes of Health
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