Red yeast rice — a.k.a. “Hong Qu” — is a common supplement used to help improve cholesterol levels. A new study says that the active ingredients inside red yeast rice can vary wildly from one product to the next.
In 2008, American consumers spent about $20.0 million on this supplement. But, manufacturers don’t have to disclose the levels of certain active ingredients called “monacolins.” So, on a whim, researchers randomly tested 12 red yeast rice supplements for monacolins — and for “citrinin,” a toxin that can harm the kidneys.
Across the 12 products, monacolin levels ranged from 0.31 milligrams to 11.15 milligrams per capsule. Four of the supplements had elevated levels of citrinin. The researchers call this “dramatic variability” in monacolin levels and suggest that better standardization and labeling of red yeast rice products may address these concerns.
This supplement is made when a specific type of yeast is fermented over rice. Red yeast rice was first thought to be used as far back as 800 AD. The Chinese used it for a lot of reasons, but the modern use is to combat high cholesterol. It stems from research that shows red yeast rice contains natural substances that mimic the action of statin (cholesterol-lowering) drugs.
Studies have found positive results. Red yeast rice dropped total cholesterol by 23% in one study and by 16% in another. It could also more significantly drop LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Researchers believe that this supplement could not only reduce and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, but also promote circulation and lower the risk of heart disease.
The only issue now is whether the product you purchase has sufficient monacolins. Many doctors actually suggest you take red yeast rice to help drop cholesterol levels, but make sure you do some investigating. Ask the doctor if he or she has advice as to which product to use. Failing that, consult the pharmacist as well. You could even contact the supplement maker directly if you are unsatisfied with the answers.
Since penny-pinching is a serious issue, you need to get your money’s worth and not blow it on a supplement that isn’t delivering the effect you are seeking. And, aside from that, your health is at stake as well. High cholesterol is nothing to take lightly.