People are always on the search for "natural" ways to stay healthy and reduce cholesterol. Chinese red yeast rice supplements have been touted as a natural, safer way to lower cholesterol compared to statin medications. The yeast that grows on a particular type of rice contains a family of substances called monocolins, which lower cholesterol by inhibiting cholesterol production in the liver in the same manner as prescription statin drugs. Some studies have shown as much as a 15% drop in cholesterol.
All of this sounds good until you dig a little deeper. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA and a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that different brands of red yeast rice supplements showed dramatic variation in levels of active ingredients. Furthermore, some contained toxic manufacturing byproducts.
The researchers analyzed capsules from a dozen different manufacturers. They found the consistency was far from standard, even though they all were labeled as containing 600 mg of red yeast rice extract.
The total monacolin levels per capsule varied from 0.31 mg to 11.15 mg. Four brands showed levels of citrinin, which is toxic to the kidneys, with ranges from 24 to 189 ppm. (parts per million). Citrinin is produced by Monascus, Penicillium and Aspergillus species.
Unfortunately, the authors of the Archives study did not share the names of the supplements with the readers so we are left to ponder!
Say what you will about pharmaceutical drugs, I think we all benefit from the FDA oversight and knowing that there is some standardization and safety in manufacture and distribution. Supplements can range from completely ineffective to potentially dangerous with contaminants or unknown side effects.
Red Yeast Rice Supplements should be used with caution.
This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.