Supplement user beware: Red yeast rice products are variable

By Inquirer Staff Writer Josh Goldstein:

Millions of Americans with high cholesterol are using red yeast rice supplements, which have been shown to lower blood fats in the same way as prescription statin drugs.

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Raw red yeast rice

But a study in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine found large variations in the active ingredients in 12 red yeast rice products. Moreover, four of the supplements that were tested had “elevated levels of citrinin,” a toxic compound that can damage kidneys and, in high doses, can kill those who ingest it.

The study, conducted by Philadelphia-area cardiologists Ram Y. Gordon and David J. Becker along with two researchers from ConsumerLab.com in White Plains, N.Y., found the monacolins content varied from 31 mg to 11.15 mg. Monacolins --_ particularly monacolin K, which is essentially the same as the drug lovastatin -- are believed to be the elements of red yeast rice that help control production of cholesterol by the liver.

Thus, the only way you can be sure that a red rice yeast product has enough of the good ingredients and none of the dangerous ones is to get it tested by a consumer lab – not necessarily a cheap or practical approach.

“We found striking variability in monacolins content in 12 proprietary [red yeast rice] products,” the researchers concluded. While the products have potential as an alternative to prescription drugs, “our findings suggest the need for improved standardization of …products and product labeling. Until this occurs, physicians should be cautious about recommending [red yeast rice] to their patients.”

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