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Red yeast rice: A substitute for patients who can’t tolerate statins?


A new study suggests that red yeast rice, an over-the-counter dietary supplement sold at pharmacies and health-food stores, may provide a treatment alternative to patients who cannot tolerate therapeutic statin doses.

Red yeast rice is produced when yeast is grown on rice. The rice is first soaked in water until the grains are fully saturated. It has been used in China for more than a millennium as food and medicine.

According to experts, the centuries-old natural product reduces the amount of cholesterol that the liver makes, but in a much gentler level. Some patients who need cholesterol-lowering treatments cannot take statins because of muscle pain, elevated liver enzymes, gastrointestinal symptoms and other sever side effects.

A new study published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found a significant cholesterol-lowering effect of a commercially available nonprescription red yeast rice product in a small group of such people.

In this study, 62 patients with dyslipidemia and a history of stopping statin therapy due to muscle pain were randomized to receive 1800 mg of red yeast rice twice daily for 24 weeks and half to placebo.

All of them were concurrently enrolled in a 12-week therapeutic lifestyle-change program that included eating a Mediterranean-based diet, an exercise program, and relaxation techniques.

Those who received the red yeast rice supplement had significantly greater reductions in LDL cholesterol.

Although these and other results are promising, people with high cholesterol shouldn’t race to health-food stores just yet. Dr. David Becker, a cardiologist in private practice at Chestnut Hill Cardiology in Pennsylvania, stressed the need for better regulation of the herbal supplement.