Red Rice Yeast is a traditional Chinese herbal remedy that has been shown in animal and human studies to lower serum cholesterol levels. Red Rice Yeast is derived from a strain of yeast (M purpureus Went) that is prepared by a traditional rice fermentation process. The yeast has been shown to contain compounds that posses the same activity as found in the statin drugs, which is responsible for inhibiting cholesterol synthesis in the liver.
Red Rice Yeast Extract contains a number of cholesterol-lowering compounds known as statins, among them lovastatin, the same active ingredient that's in Mevacor. Other red yeast compounds are similar to those in other cholesterol medications, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin). The UCLA study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999 and confirmed that a supplement known as Red Rice Yeast Extract reduces cholesterol levels by an average of 40 points in 12 weeks when combined with a low-fat diet. That's about the same result you'd expect from a low dose of the popular cholesterol drug, Mevacor.
For people with high cholesterol (240 mg/dl or above), the choice among conventional physicians is usually to prescribe one of the statin drugs. These tend to be safe, although there is a slight risk of serious side effects, such as liver problems or severe muscle aches. The most common medications are lipid-lowering agents known as statins. However, due to the potential side effects of statin drugs and their expense, people continue to be interested in natural alternatives.
For those with borderline cholesterol (200 to 239 mg/dl), the decision is trickier. A five-year study showed that statin drugs cut the risk of heart disease in this group, too. But some experts believe that natural supplements may offer similar benefits, with fewer adverse effects. However, long-term studies are lacking. Several trials in China have shown that red yeast products have no toxic effects, and in the UCLA study, the liver tests of people taking the supplement remained normal. Cost may be a deciding factor as well.