Beware of Red Yeast Rice Dietary Supplements

You Won’t Know Which Ones Can or Cannot Lower Cholesterol


Researchers have again shown that it’s a crap shoot when it comes to buying red yeast rice supplements.

These are supplements that theoretically can lower cholesterol levels just like prescription statins, since they consist of rice fermented by a yeast that also makes a statin in the process.

The problem: Some red yeast pills contain none of the statin!  And the others can vary 60-fold in their concentration of this  potent ingredient. So you might get a little or you might get a lot.

But don’t look for that information on the labels. You won’t find it anywhere.

Why the big differences in statin levels?  Among the possible reasons are the manufacturers may be using different strains of yeast or maintaining them under different fermentation conditions. But you won’t know that.

The Study

Harvard Medical School researcher Pieter Cohen teamed up with researchers at the National Center for Natural Products Research in Mississippi to analyze 28 commercial red yeast rice supplement brands purchased from Walmart, Whole Foods, Walgreens, and GNC.

They analyzed the supplements for “monacolin K,” an inhibitor of cholesterol synthesis identical to lovastatin, a prescription statin sold as Mevacor.

What They Found

Two of the 28 red yeast rice supplements had none of the statin. They were essentially dummy pills. Not only a waste of money, but they may have delayed some consumers from getting treatment for their high cholesterol levels.

(The researchers did not identify any of the 28 brands in this study. Maybe that’s because Cohen was hit by a nuisance lawsuit by a supplement manufacturer who didn’t like Cohen pointing out that his dietary supplements were adulterated with illegal drugs. Cohen prevailed in court, but only after a long and costly ordeal that he probably doesn’t want to deal with again.)

Back to the study: The remaining 26 supplement brands contained a huge range of concentrations, amounting to 60-fold differences in their levels of the statin. Six of the 28 had so much of the statin that it exceeded the level the Food and Drug Administration has called too high for dietary supplements.

None of the labels disclosed the amount of the statin ingredient in the supplements. And only two brands advised consumers to avoid consuming the supplement with prescription statins.

Even the Same Brand Can Vary

Cohen and his colleagues’ study looked at one batch of red yeast rice supplements. ConsumerLab.com has analyzed red yeast rice supplements several times over the years and finds that the levels in the same brands can vary dramatically from year to year.

It’s been ten years since the Food and Drug Administration enacted good manufacturing practices for the dietary supplement industry that was supposed to assure for consumers the strength and composition of their products. What’s the matter with red yeast rice?

Caveat emptor!

Source: European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 2017 doi.org/10.1177/2047487317715714

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