Red yeast rice, a commercially available food supplement known to reduce serum cholesterol, has been repeatedly advocated as alternative therapy for hypercholesterolemic patients that refuse statins, cannot tolerate statin therapy's side effects, or request a "naturopathic" medicine. Red yeast rice contains a fungus (Monascus purpureus), which was utilized in the original production of lovastatin (MEVACOR, Merck & Co, Whitehouse Station, NJ), the first marketed pharmaceutical statin, and is chemically identical to such product. Their identical properties account for the similarity in therapeutic and side effects of red yeast rice and lovastatin. The red yeast rice ingredient that blocks cholesterol production is monacolin K. Because red yeast rice preparations have large variability in monacolin K content, predicting or understanding dose-related efficacy and side-effect risks of red yeast rice is practically impossible. The lipid-regulating potency of red yeast rice in commercial preparations was found to be extensively different according to the number or concentration of monacolin K they possess. Furthermore, more than one type of monacolin was found in different preparations (or batches) of red yeast rice. Other ingredients found in red yeast rice are also known to be potentially toxic. The US Food and Drug Administration issued warnings to consumers in 2007 and in 2013 against taking red yeast rice products due to the lack of assurance about its efficacy, safety, and lack of standardized preparation methods. This article discusses my clinical trial results with red yeast rice, reviews the literature on its therapeutic and side effects, and discusses why red yeast rice is not an acceptable substitution for statins.
Keywords: Dyslipidemia; Lovastatin; Nutraceuticals; Red yeast rice; Statin side effects.
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