Not all “natural” supplements are safe — this popular one could be dangerous

November 16, 2010
Volume 07    |   Issue 46

I’ve never liked statins. I’ve said for years that they don’t work well for women. They deplete the body of CoQ10, a nutrient essential for a healthy heart. And they’re unnecessary in many cases.

I’m less than enthusiastic about red yeast rice, a popular over-the-counter cholesterol-lowering “natural” statin. One reason is that red yeast rice — just like its pharmaceutical counterpart — robs your body of CoQ10. This says to me that it’s not as safe as some medical experts say it is.

In fact, red yeast rice could be even more dangerous than prescription statins. Here’s why: To make red yeast rice, its manufacturers culture a yeast (Monascus purpureus) on rice. This process produces 14 different monacolins — the active ingredients in the product. Several drug companies purify one of these, monacolin K, and sell it as lovastatin. Every dose of these prescription drugs contains the same amount of monacolin K.

Red yeast rice, on the other hand, doesn’t have a standard amount of monacolins. The Archives of Internal Medicine recently published a study proving this. What these researchers found shows a clear safety issue with this supplement. These chemicals ranged from 0.31 mg to 11.15 mg per dose. In other words, there’s no way for you to know how much you’re getting. You could take way too much — or you may not get enough to do any good. It’s impossible to know until it damages your liver or your heart.

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Red yeast rice would be safer if the manufacturer standardized it to contain the same amount of monacolins. Or they could label it with the levels of monacolin K or other monacolins the product contains. But then you couldn’t call it a supplement any more. It would be an unapproved drug.

And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, four out of the 12 supplements tested had detectible amounts of citrinin. This is a toxic fungus that can damage your kidneys.

Red yeast rice is not even as safe as the drug company products. So why would you want to take it and risk serious complications?

I’ve discussed much safer methods to reduce cholesterol and support good heart health in past articles. They are a “must read” if your doctor is pressuring you to take statins or if you think cholesterol is indicative of heart disease. Meanwhile, don’t be fooled into believing that statins are safe. They’re not. And neither is red yeast rice, in my opinion.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Arch Intern Med., October 25, 2010;170[19]:1722-1727.

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