Red Yeast Rice Products Vary in Quality

We have written that the popular <"">red yeast rice supplements that tout cholesterol-lowering abilities vary dramatically depending on brand. Now, an emerging study has found that active ingredients and quality also vary.

According to WebMD, not only are there significant variances, some of the popular supplements could contain a toxic ingredient. The new study, said WebMD, involved an analysis of 12 different red yeast rice supplements, which revealed that total monacolins—the product’s active ingredient—varied from 0.31 to 11.15 milligrams per capsule, a huge difference. In four separate cases, the supplements contained citrinin, which is a fungal toxin dangerous to the kidneys, noted WebMD.

“Red yeast rice has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties and is an increasingly popular alternative lipid-lowering therapy that may benefit patients with a history of coronary disease who cannot take statins, subjects who refuse statins, or who prefer a ‘natural’ approach to pharmacotherapy,” wrote researcher Ram Y. Gordon, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine, quoted WebMD.

“However, our study found dramatic variability of monacolin levels in commercial products and the presence of citrinin in one-third of formulations,” they added. “Further oversight and standardization of the production and labeling of red yeast rice products may address some of the concerns raised in this study,” quoted WebMD. The researchers urged caution in the meantime.

We previously wrote about an earlier study in which ConsumerLab concluded that some brands contain much less of the active ingredient proven to be scientifically effective; others contain contaminants. Four of the 10 products ConsumerLab tested contained citrinin. “Our research indicates that consumers need to be very careful when choosing red yeast rice products, because we found a 100-fold variation in the amount of active compounds across the products,” Dr. Tod Cooperman, ConsumerLab president of the independent testing company, told Reuters Health in 2008.

Chinese red yeast rice is also known as hong qu, said WebMD. Red yeast rice is produced by fermenting yeast with rice, with the resultant product containing lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor, a medication in the drug class known as statins, used to treat high cholesterol. While studies show red yeast rice may be effective in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, comparisons are impossible due to the wide differences among the various brands. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no control over herbal products, which are not required to have labeling disclosing lovastatin amounts.

Lovastatin is a prescription-only medication that should only ever be used by patients under the advice of their physician and with a prescription. In 2008, the FDA issued a warning that some brands of red yeast rice supplements may contain lovastatin and should not be used. The presence of lovastatin is potentially dangerous because there’s no way for someone consuming the products to know the level or quality of lovastatin in the red yeast rice. Lovastatin is known to dangerously interact with other medications and, on its own, can cause other serious health problems.

The recent study also found that, in addition to monacolin levels varying significantly, levels of monacolin K (lovastatin) also ranged significantly, from 0.10 to 10.09 milligrams per capsule.

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