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Red Yeast Rice

Red yeast rice extract is fermented rice grown primarily in China and Southeast Asia. The rice obtains its reddish-purple color after being cultivated with a fungus called Monascus Purpureus. It is commonly used today as food coloring and in the production of many Chinese wines. However, its subtle taste allows Chinese cooks to use it in cuisine, particularly in the Fuijian region of China. Recently, it has been recognized for its effects on lowering cholesterol levels in adults.

Use in Chinese Medicine

There is evidence that red yeast rice extract has been used in Chinese medicine as early as 800 AD. According to recovered Chinese documents, red yeast rice was used to aid in digestion, flush toxins out of the body, relieve common symptoms of sickness, and to "revitalize" the blood.

Lowering Cholesterol

Today, the primary use for red yeast rice extract is to naturally lower cholesterol levels. One study found that taking 2.4 grams of red yeast rice extract could lower LDL cholesterol levels by 22% and reduce overall cholesterol by 16% in just 12 weeks. Another study found that participants lowered LDL cholesterol by 26% in eight weeks by taking 1.2 grams of red yeast rice extract.

So how does red yeast rice extract lower cholesterol?

Red yeast rice extract contains a substance called monacolin K, also known as lovastatin. Lovastatin is the active ingredient in the cholesterol-lowering prescription drug Mevacor. Lovastatin increases the body's ability to remove cholesterol and simultaneously lowers your body's natural production of cholesterol. The end result is lower cholesterol, especially LDL or "bad" cholesterol. The effects are so pronounced in some studies that drug manufacturers have worked to remove the natural form from the market as an unapproved drug, but it is still widely available in supplement stores.

Red Yeast Rice Supplements

Since red yeast rice extract technically contains a patented substance, the FDA has been controlling the sale of red yeast rice extract supplements. However, people can still get red yeast rice extract in local health stores or by shopping online. Alternatively, you can buy supplements that contain red yeast rice extract as part of the formula as well.

There are however, some concerns when taking red yeast rice extract supplements. While research is limited, there is some proof that lovastatin can cause muscle atrophy, elevated muscle and liver enzymes, and liver problems. This is why you should not take red yeast rice extract if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or if you have liver or kidney disease.

Other medications have shown to interfere with red yeast rice extract including certain antidepressants, antibiotics, and other cholesterol drugs like Crestor, Lescol, and Lipitor.

Regardless of your health condition, speak to your doctor or family physician before taking red yeast rice extract. As with any supplement, you should communicate with your doctor beforehand to ensure the supplement is safe and right for you. Red yeast rice extract is no exception so make sure you do your due diligence before using red yeast rice extract.

Overall, for the average healthy adult, red yeast rice extract can be a safe and effective way to manage cholesterol. While red yeast extract is not currently used in Vasacor's formulation because of regulatory concerns by the FDA, It is cheaper than prescription drugs that are bio-identical, and has recently become more readily available. While there are still some regulatory challenges faced by red yeast rice supplements, if you have high cholesterol and want an alternative way to lower it, consider including red yeast rice into your supplement regime.

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