Red yeast rice, long valued as a natural cholesterol remedy, has gone organic.
by Lisa James
It is a sobering statistic: 28% of Americans age 40 and older are on cholesterol-lowering medication. And that percentage keeps going up, rising from 20% in 2003.
The reason for this constant increase lies in the sheer number of Americans whose levels of cholesterol have been deemed too high. According to the American Heart Association, 30.9 million people age 20 and older are estimated to have total cholesterol levels at or above 240 mg/dL, accounting for roughly 10% of the total US population.
Given the role cholesterol abnormalities play in cardiovascular disease, it’s understandable why public health authorities find these figures worrisome. Fortunately, a Chinese medicine agent called red yeast rice provides a natural alternative.
Cholesterol isn’t evil. The body uses it to build cell membranes, among other purposes. But cholesterol’s waxy consistency means it needs to be transported by substances called lipoproteins through the watery bloodstream, which is when things get interesting.
One type of lipoprotein, the low density (LDL) kind, turns troublesome when it oxidizes, a process similar to the rusting of a car. When this happens, LDL can get stuck in damaged areas on artery walls along with calcium and other substances.
Eventually the artery becomes thicker and stiffer, slowing down blood flow. This leaves the artery prone to blockage by blood clots; blockages in cardiac arteries can cause heart attacks, while those in arteries within the brain can cause strokes.
The Color of Health
For centuries, the Chinese have been fermenting rice with a species of fungus, Monascus purpureus, which turns the rice red. In addition to its use as a food colorant and beverage ingredient, this rice has also been employed by Traditional Chinese Medicine to ease indigestion and improve blood circulation.
Modern research has validated red yeast rice’s use for improving circulatory health. In one well-controlled study—a placebo was used and neither the study team nor the participants knew who was taking which substance—volunteers who took red yeast rice saw their LDL levels go down by an average of 22% and their total cholesterol levels decline by 15%, compared with no reductions in the placebo group (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 7/18/13). Another study found that red yeast rice amplified the cholesterol-lowering effects of the Mediterranean diet in people who couldn’t take statins, the most commonly used class of drugs, including people with diabetes, which tends to make cholesterol control difficult (Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013). In addition, lab studies have found evidence linking red yeast rice to improvements in fatty liver disease, which often occurs in tandem with high cholesterol levels.
Like other natural therapies, red yeast rice doesn’t depend on a single agent for its effects. Instead it supplies nine different members of a cholesterol-controlling family known as monacolins, as well as sterols, monounsaturated fatty acids and other beneficial substances.
And now red yeast rice is available in organic formulations, eliminating the kinds of contaminants that may be present if non-organic sources are used.
Are you among the millions who have been told they have high cholesterol? Organic red yeast rice can provide a promising option.