Last year I wrote about how red yeast rice can be an effective natural supplement to lower cholesterol; this is only natural since the rice’s active ingredient is lovastatin, which is one of the official prescription medicines to lower cholesterol. But I just read a disturbing new review by my favorite vitamin-monitoring group, Consumerlab. This independent lab has yet again done an outstanding service by analyzing a dozen of the most popular red yeast rice brands; their major findings show:
- Most of the pills had very little of the active ingredient, lovastatin (and monacolins)
- The range of lovastatin amounts between brands was enormous, and none of the labels specifically say how much of the active ingredient is in there (which they can never state, since they are technically herbal supplements and are forbidden by the FDA to make any health claims)
- Many brands had even less of the active ingredient than they did in previous tests
- A few were contaminated with a mycotoxin called citrinin, which may be associated with kidney disease (but not proven).
I think such information is unfortunate but essential to make the supplement industry more trustworthy and accountable. I am now a lot less enthusiastic about recommending red yeast rice as a “healthy alternative” to the prescription medicines. Why waste your money on this supplement if there’s only a tiny amount of the active ingredient — and if it may be contaminated? Why take the risk when the prescription versions have overwhelming evidence of effectiveness — and don’t have toxic contaminants?
Also, there are many Chinese medicines with red yeast rice, and I had previously liked the more official Xue Zhi Kang brand; but I now would certainly like to see similar independent tests of this brand and other Chinese versions before recommending. Maybe they already exist; does anyone know of a Chinese article reviewing this issue?
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