Red Yeast Rice for Cholesterol—What You Should Know

01/02/2019 | 2 min. read

Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Many of you have asked if you should take red yeast rice for cholesterol. My answer is yes and no, plus there’s a far better alternative to red yeast rice. But before I get to that, let me explain what red yeast rice is and how it works.

What is red yeast rice? Used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine, red yeast rice is an extract from rice fermented with a special type of yeast called Monascus purpureus. It contains an ingredient called monacolin K, which is the same ingredient used in the cholesterol-lowering medication lovastatin. So, red yeast rice is essentially a “statin in disguise”—and like a statin, it has both a light side and a dark side.

How Does Red Yeast Rice Lower Cholesterol?

Like a statin, red yeast rice blocks the production of cholesterol, which can effectively lower your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Yet, like a statin, it can cause several unwanted side effects, including:

  • Liver damage
  • Muscle damage and pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Gas and bloating

Should You Take Red Yeast Rice?

Because red yeast rice is essentially a natural statin, my recommendation is the same as it is for commercial statin drugs. While statins are powerful, and I do recommend them for men with coronary artery disease, I don’t recommend them for general cholesterol lowering or for women. For those groups, the statin side effects outweigh the benefits.

If you do take red yeast rice for lowering cholesterol, I don’t recommend taking the high doses (generally 1,200 mg daily) that are often recommended. Instead, I suggest taking 600 mg daily, or half the recommended dose, and see if you have any side effects. I also recommend getting your liver function tested regularly, just as you would with a prescription statin medication.

If you have statin-like side effects, I recommended coming off red yeast rice and going on a natural cholesterol-lowering program.

Citrus Bergamot Is a Good Alternative to Red Yeast Rice

If you’ve taken red yeast rice for cholesterol but experienced unwanted side effects, I’ve found that citrus bergamot is a good, well-tolerated alternative. It does a great job of reducing total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while supporting healthy HDL cholesterol. And while citrus bergamot does contain some flavanones that act like natural statins, it has a much softer side effect profile.

Citrus bergamot also contains flavonoids which are terrific metabolic regulators and do some other great things, supporting healthy blood vessels and normal blood sugar. So, I believe it’s a better choice than red yeast rice for cholesterol lowering.

More Heart Health Advice from Dr. Sinatra

Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Meet Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy.

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