Red Yeast Rice for Cholesterol

Lipitor just went generic earlier this month, losing its patent. $5 billion worth of Lipitor was sold in the US last year and was used by 17 million people. What about those who can’t or don’t want to use Lipitor or other statin medications?

“Statins” are common prescription medications used to treat high cholesterol. They include simvastatin, pravastatin, Crestor (rosuvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), and others.


One option patients ask about is Red Yeast Rice.  It’s a yeast (or fungus) grown on rice under special conditions. It contains monacolins, the most abundant is monacolin K. This component is structurally identical to lovastatin, a prescription medication used for cholesterol. It’s not surprising then that red yeast rice works for cholesterol, but there are concerns with using it.


If a person has a bad reaction to another statin, taking red yeast rice may also cause a similar reaction (since it contains a similar product to statins). It’s not advisable to take red yeast rice unless you’ve discussed it with a knowledgeable practitioner and are being monitored.


The most common adverse effects with red yeast rice (as with all statins) are muscle aches and pains. Statins can also cause an increase in liver enzymes and should be monitored with blood work.


Discuss any cholesterol medications, and any supplements with your healthcare provider(s). Since you can’t tell what your cholesterol is without monitoring lab work, make sure to follow up as appropriate with your healthcare providers.



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