Benefits of Red Yeast Rice

What is red yeast rice?

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Benefits of Red Yeast Rice

Red Yeast Rice and Cholesterol

Red Yeast Rice Side Effects

Red Yeast Rice Dosage

Red Yeast Rice Supplement Reviews

Red yeast rice, also known as red fermented rice, red koji rice, anka, or ang-kak, is an edible substance produced by growing a particular variety of yeast, called Monascus purpureus, on rice. The yeast gives red yeast rice its distinctive reddish-purple hue.

The method is as follows: raw rice is soaked in water until the individual grains are saturated. Then, the rice is either inoculated with the yeast or steamed in order to simultaneously sterilize and cook it prior to inoculation. Inoculation occurs when Monascus purpureus spores or powdered red yeast rice (essentially a starter culture) are added to the rice. The inoculated rice is then incubated at room temperature for three days to one week; during this incubation period, the rice wred yeast rice in bowlill change color, becoming bright red in the core and purplish-red on the outside. The color is important, but anyone purchasing red yeast rice should exercise caution and only purchase the highest quality product: unfortunately, red yeast rice’s distinctive hue can be imitated with artificial colorings or chemical dyes by unscrupulous manufacturers—so beware! Once cultured, red yeast rice can be sold as-is in the form of dried rice grains, as a paste made with cooked and pasteurized red yeast rice, or as a dried and pulverized fine powder. China produces the bulk of the world’s red yeast rice, which is fitting, given the substance’s history.

A traditional food in China whose usage dates from the Tang Dynasty (in 800 AD), red yeast rice is a staple food in many Asian cultures. For example, in addition to being cooked and eaten on its own, it is also used to provide both color and flavor in many dishes, including Peking duck and pickled tofu, as well as certain types of wine and rice vinegar. It also plays a role in flavoring Hongju (a type of Korean rice wine) and Japanese sake. Red yeast rice has a long history as a remedy for gastric ailments and poor circulation (particularly “blood blockages,” which in modern parlance would refer to cholesterol and arterial health), and has traditionally been thought to promote spleen and stomach health. In dried, powdered form, red yeast rice goes by the name Zhi Tai; if extracted with alcohol, it is known as Xue Zhi Kang.

Available as an over-the-counter supplement, red yeast rice is currently purchased and used primarily for the purpose of controlling cholesterol levels. There is considerable scientific evidence to suggest that red yeast rice is effective in lowering blood levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, sometimes called “bad cholesterol”), and red yeast rice rawtriglyceride levels. Red yeast rice contains several compounds known collectively as monacolins, compounds that are known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis. Of these, one in particular, called “monakolin K” is an inhibitor of HMG-CoA reductase. Also known as mevinolin or lovastatin, monokolin K is a naturally-occurring statin similar to those occurring in certain cholesterol-lowering medications in the “statin” family; it has aroused interest as a potential cholesterol-lowering dietary supplement. However, because there is an approved drug identical to the molecule, red yeast rice is regulated as a drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, there remains some dispute as to whether red yeast rice is best classified as a drug or as a dietary supplement, primarily on the part of supplement manufacturers, who stand to benefit from red yeast rice’s classification as a supplement—and thus subject to less oversight. In 1998, the FDA attempted to ban a product called Cholestrin that contained red yeast rice extract, on the grounds that it contained statins (specifically lovastatin) and must thus be considered a drug. After a lengthy court battle, the makers of Cholestrin agreed to remove the red yeast rice from the product while marketing it under the same name. Other companies continued to manufacture and sell red yeast rice products, but switched to a different strain of yeast in order to reduce the statin levels while changing the labels to omit any mention of the product’s cholesterol lowering properties.

However, the problem was not entirely resolved. In 2007, the FDA advised the public to avoid three potentially harmful red yeast rice products. These products include Cholestrix, produced by Sunburst Biorganics, and both Red Yeast Rice and Red Yeast Rice/Policosonal Complex, manufactured by Nature’s Value and Kabco and sold by Swanson Healthcare Products, Inc. The products, promoted and sold primarily on the Internet as dietary supplements, were tested by the FDA and found to contain lovastatin. Lovastatin, an active pharmaceutical compound found in certain cholesterol-lowering prescription medications, is considered a drug and thus its presence in any dietary supplement violates the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which, among other things, defines what is a “food,” versus what is a “drug” or a “dietary supplement.” Dr. Steven Galson, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research stated that the risk of these supplements is “serious because consumers may not know the side effects associated with lovastatin and the fact that it can adversely interact with other medications.”

It is worth bearing in mind that “natural” does not necessarily equal “safe,” and that red yeast rice in particular—due to its similarity to existing pharmaceutical cholesterol drugs in the statin family—has the potential to do considerable harm if misused. Like any herbal preparation or dietary supplement, red yeast rice can have side effects (although on the whole these tend to be fewer and less severe than those resulting from use of prescription medications) and may interact with other drugs or supplements. Because red yeast rice behaves in a manner similar to certain prescription cholesterol drugs, it is advised that individuals wishing to take the supplement do so under the supervision and with the guidance of a physician or other qualified health care professional. However, with a doctor’s approval, there is no reason why most individuals (unless they are pregnant or suffering from a serious underlying medical condition) wishing to lower their cholesterol levels cannot take red yeast rice, particularly since many individuals who take it report fewer side effects than with statin drugs.

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