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How do I Choose the Best Red Yeast Rice Capsules?

By Amanda Lacasse
Updated Jan 27, 2024
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Red yeast rice is a dietary supplement that comes from Chinese medicine traditions and is said to help lower blood cholesterol levels. Using red yeast rice capsules as an alternative to prescription cholesterol-lowering medications appeals to some people who prefer a natural approach to health care. Choosing the best red yeast rice capsules involves researching red yeast rice, researching the various forms available, and consulting a physician familiar with both red yeast rice and the patient’s specific health history. A person taking red yeast rice capsules to lower his cholesterol should still receive the same health monitoring from a physician as a person taking a prescription medication.

Studies have shown that not all red yeast rice capsules are equal and there is a lot of variation between brands, which is why it’s important for a person to do his research before buying. The primary active ingredient in red yeast rice capsules is a substance called monacolin K, also known as lovastatin. Lovastatin is the active ingredient in some prescription cholesterol-lowering drugs, but it occurs naturally in red yeast rice. Red yeast rice also contains additional active ingredients such as plant sterols and isoflavones, micronutrients which are also purported to lower cholesterol levels. It is lovastatin, however, that has the strongest cholesterol-lowering properties and is the main ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor&Reg;.

Part of choosing the best red yeast rice capsules could be finding them. While they are readily available in some parts of the world, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned those with more than a trace amount of lovastatin, forcing several brands from the U.S. market and raising questions about the health benefits of those remaining. Those still available in the U.S. are supposed to have only negligible amounts of lovastatin, though studies in the early 21st century showed that lovastatin levels varied greatly from product to product. Some brands also contained a substance called citrinic acid, which can cause kidney problems.

The varying amounts of lovastatin remaining in the brands left in the U.S. market raise concerns for both healthcare providers and patients trying to choose the best red yeast rice capsules, because neither can be sure of how much of the medication the patient is actually getting. Physicians note that some patients may develop muscle pain as a side effect of any statin treatment and that the liver should be monitored while taking any supplement that may contain the drug. Another problem with unsupervised intake of red yeast rice capsules is that consumers may be unaware of serious drug interactions that can occur between the supplement and other medications they may be using — especially if there are questions about the supplement’s ingredients.

When researching a red yeast rice capsule product, a person should look for clear information on specific ingredients and specific ingredient amounts. There are many places on the Internet that may be able to provide such information. Websites that feature consumer reviews in addition to a strong medical background may be the most beneficial when trying to choose the best capsule, because they provide information from both a doctor’s and patients’ perspectives.

A person also should talk to his physician about the advantages and disadvantages of taking red yeast capsules and how they compare to taking a prescription medication with standardized lovastatin levels. The physician can offer his advice based on the patient’s individual health. He also can provide the appropriate monitoring, because healthcare professionals recommend that patients taking red yeast get the same follow-up care as someone taking prescription cholesterol-lowering drugs.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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