You Wanted to Know: Red Yeast Rice

Himalayan Red Long grain Rice  in red heart shaped plate

I love it when doctors suggest natural remedies to help their patients with medical issues. Red yeast rice is no exception, as it’s a potent cholesterol fighter. I also love it when a patient seeks a second opinion, like Elaine DeSimone:


I’m sure glad you asked this question, Elaine, because it gives me the opportunity to talk about one of the best natural ways to lower your bad cholesterol.

Red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus) comes from the red yeast that is grown on rice, hence, its name. It has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. It’s active ingredient works in a similar way as our commonly used cholesterol-lowering prescription medications. Here’s how.

While we get much of our cholesterol from our diet, our body is able to make its own cholesterol as well. All it needs is a few building-block molecules and an array of enzymes that combine these smaller molecules to construct a whole cholesterol molecule. One very important enzyme for this process is called HMG-CoA Reductase; it’s like the conductor on a train to cholesterol city. If you stop the conductor, the whole train stops.

A specific compound produced in red yeast rice, known as monacolins, is very similar to lovastatin, a very commonly used cholesterol-lowering drug. This compound inhibits HMG-CoA Reductase and halts cholesterol synthesis. This leads to a decrease in LDL (or lousy cholesterol). In fact, multiple studies that have tested red yeast rice on persons with high cholesterol have found that it can improve one’s cholesterol numbers. A typical regimen would be 1200 milligrams twice per day.

Although red yeast rice is widely available without a prescription and appears to have fewer side effects compared to statin drugs, it is important to remember that it is, in effect, a natural pharmaceutical that should be used under a physician’s direction.