Of all the natural supplements available to help lower cholesterol, red rice yeast extracts are by far the most effective.
by Andrew Weil, MD. University of Arizona, USA.
Red rice yeast (Monascus purpureus) has a long history of use in China as a natural food coloring and healthful ingredient. It is a source of naturally occurring statins, and because it delivers a mix of those compounds rather than a single molecule, it is much less likely to cause the side effects that sometimes occur with the pharmaceutical versions.
As you may know, in 2001 the FDA banned the sale of the most popular brand of red yeast rice extract, Cholestin, because one of its components (lovastatin) was already a patented drug when Cholestin came on the market (the product now sold as “Cholestin” in the United States does not contain any red rice yeast). You can still obtain Cholestin that contains red rice yeast extract in some European countries, and other brands of red rice yeast extract are still sold in the U.S. Because supplements are unregulated and the demand for quality ingredients is growing, some products will not actually contain any red rice yeast extract and will be ineffective. If you don’t get satisfactory results, you can always switch to a better quality brand or even to a prescribed statin.
The most common side effects of prescribed statin drugs are headache, digestive upset, liver dysfunction, and muscle pain. These last two problems can be serious, but statins are well tolerated by most people, and serious side effects are rare. Red rice yeast supplements can cause the same side effects in sensitive people, but in my experience the incidence is significantly less than with the purified prescription compounds.
I recommend that anyone who takes statins or red rice yeast extract supplements for cholesterol control should also take 90 – 120 mg of coenzyme q10 every day, since these drugs inhibit the body’s natural synthesis of this coenzyme, which is needed for formation of ATP, our bodies’ energy currency. (That may account for the muscle pain that some people experience.)
Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant synthesized by the body, found in many foods, and available as a supplement.Coenzyme Q10 is beneficial for heart health in many ways. It assists in maintaining the normal oxidative state of LDL cholesterol, helps assure circulatory health, and supports optimal functioning of the heart muscle. CoQ10 may also help support the health of vessel walls. In addition, CoQ10 may play a role in reducing the number and severity of migraine headaches, and improving sperm motility in men. Some research has indicated therapeutic value in high doses to slow the progression of Parkinson’s diseases, but a 2011 study by the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke found no benefit in slowing symptoms or neural degeneration. A few small clinical trials have indicated CoQ10 supplementation may help prevent and treat inflamed gums, a condition known as gingivitis.
Deficiency of coenzyme q10 has been associated with cardiovascular problems including angina, arrhythmia, heart failure and high blood pressure. Problems with blood sugar regulation, gingival (gum) health, and stomach ulcers have also been associated with CoQ10 deficiency. Those who are taking statins to lower cholesterol are at particular risk for deficiency, because not only do statins reduce cholesterol levels, but they also block CoQ10 synthesis in the body. Low CoQ10 levels in patients on statins can contribute to the common side effects of statin therapy such as fatigue and aching joints and muscles.
No matter what supplement or drug you use for cholesterol control, be sure to get at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise and reduce the amount of saturated fat and trans-fats in your diet. Other beneficial lifestyle changes include drinking green tea, eating one clove of garlic per day (diced or crushed in food), and consuming more soluble fiber (such as oat bran), foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (good sources include salmon, sardines and walnuts) and plenty of leafy greens and fresh fruits.
About the Author.
Andrew Weil, M.D., is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, a healing oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.
Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, where he is also a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health and the Lovell-Jones Professor of Integrative Rheumatology. Dr. Weil received both his medical degree and his undergraduate AB degree in biology (botany) from Harvard University.
Dr. Weil is an internationally-recognized expert for his views on leading a healthy lifestyle, his philosophy of healthy aging, and his critique of the future of medicine and health care. Approximately 10 million copies of Dr. Weil’s books have been sold, including Spontaneous Healing, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, Eating Well for Optimum Health, The Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Aging, and Why Our Health Matters.