Red Yeast Rice Supplement - History, Health Benefits and Possible Risks
Are you thinking of taking a red yeast rice supplement for its health benefits?
Since the Tang Dynasty (800 AD), when red yeast rice was first documented, it has been used by the Chinese as a food coloring agent and preservative, an ingredient for rice wine, and a spice.
Red yeast rice is rice that has been allowed to set and become fermented by red yeast. It has been used for medicinal purposes for over a thousand years in that country, in its dried, powdered form known as Zhi Tai, and as Xue Zhi Kang when extracted with alcohol.
A staple in both China and Japan (average estimated consumption - about 14 to 55 grams per person, per day), red yeast rice has been on the Chinese list of remedies used for its ability to improve blood circulation, overcome bouts of diarrhea, and aid with indigestion conditions.
Containing several compounds which are collectively known as monacolins (known to inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol), the red yeast rice supplement has most recently come to light in both Eastern and Western countries for its ability to lower blood lipids - both cholesterol and triglycerides.
Because of one of its properties, monacolin K (potent inhibitor of HMG-CoA reductase), red yeast rice extract has been sold as a natural cholesterol-lowering agent in over the counter supplements for a number of years. This is despite the controversy over whether a red yeast rice supplement is indeed a dietary supplement or actually a drug.
Since the 1970s, studies in humans have reported the properties in red yeast to lower blood lipid levels, in particular LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and triglyceride levels. However, drugs that are associated with kidney and / or muscle injury (used alone or in combination) are a concern, especially when relatively new on the market and not yet unapproved by the FDA.
Though smaller studies have shown the effectiveness and safety of red yeast rice supplements and its use for lowering blood sugar levels, it continues to be illegal to sell it if it contains more than trace amounts of the substances in question. Though products can be purchased, it generally has to be done through companies on the internet. Keep in mind that these products do not have to meet any standards; it is thus not always safe getting such items in this manner.
Caution, Contraindications and Potential Side Effects
Under what circumstances should the consumption of a red yeast rice supplement be undertaken more carefully? What contraindications does it have?
Red yeast can interact with other products that can cause damage to the liver, or even that are broken down in the liver. St John's Wort, niacin, milk thistle, zinc and vitamin A may all interact with red yeast rice extract. Grapefruit juice can increase the blood levels of red yeast, while CoQ10 levels can be dropped by the same extract. On the other hand, cholesterol-lowering supplements such as fish oils may have increased effects when taken with red yeast rice.
Caution should be shown concerning the red yeast rice supplement product if you decide the benefits outweigh the negatives. Red yeast can increase the risk of bleeding when taken in conjunction with herbs and / or supplements that are themselves known to increase the risk of bleeding, such as ginkgo biloba, or on a smaller scale, garlic and saw palmetto.
It may also interact with herbs and supplements that affect blood pressure or the thyroid. In addition, it may have an anti-inflammatory effect, so it should be used cautiously with other herbs or supplements that may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Learn more about red yeast rice supplements by reading the other related red yeast rice articles and pages on this website.
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