Red yeast rice

Category: Food


Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

Monascus purpureus (syn. M. albidus, M. anka, M. araneosus, M. major, M. rubiginosus, and M. vini; lit. "red yeast") is a species of mold that is purplish-red in color. It is also known by the names ang-khak rice mold, corn silage mold, maize silage mold, and rice kernel discoloration.

This all sounds very unappetising, but this fungus is used in the form of red yeast rice and in the production of certain fermented foods in China.

We have put it in here because it is used as a food and it 'lowers cholesterol'.

The discoveries of cholesterol-lowering statins produced by the mold has naturally prompted research into its possible medical uses. It produces a number of naturally occurring statins.

About cholesterol

Cholesterol is an essential part of our body chemistry.  

It is an organic molecule and a sterol (or modified steroid), a lipid molecule and is biosynthesized by all animal cells because it is an essential structural component of all animal cell membranes.  It is required to maintain both membrane structural integrity and fluidity.  In addition to its importance within cells, cholesterol also serves as a precursor for the biosynthesis of steroid hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D.

Thus without cholesterol, or if you have inadequate cholesterol, you may suffer from:

  • Cell death and decline - Gradual degeneration of your cells, rapid ageing, and organ death, as there is nothing with which to repair cells
  • Inadequate and disrupted hormone levels – steroid hormones include the  glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens, estrogens, and progestogens. Steroid hormones help control metabolism, inflammation, immune functions, salt and water balance, development of sexual characteristics, and the ability to withstand illness and injury.  Without them one gets inflammation auto-immune disease, oedema, infertility, and impotence.  [The natural steroid hormones are generally synthesized from cholesterol in the gonads and adrenal glands.]
  • Vitamin D deficiency – which impairs bone mineralization, leading to bone softening diseases as rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. Emerging evidence suggests vitamin D plays a role in the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  It has found to be associated with the advancement of cancers, for example; breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate.  Hypovitaminosis D is a risk factor for depression.  One study found low serum vitamin D concentrations in patients with schizophrenia.  The active metabolite of vitamin D3 (calcitriol) acts as a catalyst in glutathione production, and low glutathione levels have been implicated in several mental health disorders.
  • Bile acid deficiency  - bile acids comprise about 80% of the organic compounds in bile. The main function of bile acids is to facilitate the formation of micelles, which promotes digestion and absorption of dietary fat, but they are increasingly being shown to have hormonal actions throughout the body.

So you may be malnourished, be weary and fatigued, depressed, age faster, get diabetes, have constant indigestion, get cancer, be metabolically totally unbalanced and therefore obese, and your entire sex life may take a dive.

High cholesterol is a symptom and not a cause.  It means that something needs repairing – the body is simply supplying more because something is amiss elsewhere.

Statins are statins

When this entry on our site was originally written, the research on PubMed appeared to indicate that the statins found in red yeast rice were somehow 'safer' than statins in general. The findings in these papers appeared to be reinforced by the use of the rice in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Its use has been documented as far back as the Tang Dynasty in China in 800 AD. It is “taken internally to invigorate the body, aid in digestion, and revitalize the blood" .  It is described in the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia, Ben Cao Gang Mu-Dan Shi Bu Yi, from the Ming Dynasty (1378–1644).

But it appears that these papers were wrong.  And this may be one case where TCM is wrong too.

It does not matter whether the statins given to a person are from a plant or a pill, statins are statins.  They have a very poor reputation medicinally and are known to cause rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdomyolysis is a known complication of hepatic 3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase (HMG-CoA) inhibitor (statin) therapy for posttransplant hyperlipidemia, and thus monitoring for this effect is indicated. We report a case of an herbal preparation-induced rhabdomyolysis in a stable renal-transplant recipient, attributed to the presence of red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus) within the mixture. The condition resolved when consumption of the product ceased. Rice fermented with red yeast contains several types of mevinic acids, including monacolin K, which is identical to lovastatin. We postulate that the interaction of cyclosporine and these compounds through the cytochrome P450 system resulted in the adverse effect seen in this patient. Transplant recipients must be cautioned against using herbal preparations to lower their lipid levels to prevent such complications from occurring. PMID: 12438974

In case you think this is an isolated incident then let us refer you to the science section and  Statin deaths: These figures come from eHealthme and were correct as at August 2015.  They only apply to the US where the figures were collected and ot the rest of the world.  The current figure is 7,804

I suspect that as long as red yeast rice is very infrequently consumed, it has little effect, but frequently consumed and it will have much the same effect as statins.

The problems of control

One of the main problems with red yeast rice is that technically in the US for example, it is classified as a 'drug', but is treated as a food. This has spawned an industry in which some products sold as red yeast rice in the USA are simply food colouring and nothing more...............

As of 2010, there are at least 30 red yeast rice brands available. Many of these avoid the FDA restriction by not having any appreciable monacolin [cholesterol lowering] content. Their labels and websites say no more than fermented according to traditional Asian methods or similar to that used in culinary applications.

So they are not red yeast rice.  But there are some products that are red yeast rice.  The FDA has issued a warning press release saying that consumers should

…not buy or eat red yeast rice products….... as they may contain an unauthorized drug that could be harmful to health.......consumers might not understand that the dangers of monacolin-containing red yeast rice might be the same as those of prescription statin drugs.

So at least the FDA recognise the dangers, even though they are finding it difficult to police.

There is one finding, however, which is particularly worrying.  American suppliers have also been suspected of "spiking" products claiming to be red yeast rice preparations with lovastatin – in effect the products are a dye plus statins. The side effects from these products has indeed been ferocious - muscle and liver damage.

Statin-associated rhabdomyolysis can lead to kidney damage and possibly kidney failure.   Furthermore, some commercial supplements have been found to contain high levels of the toxin citrinin.  I recommend the following LINK.

How it works

Acts like a natural statin - see statins, and also see the observation.