Statins and red yeast rice are two popular choices for lowering your cholesterol levels and reducing your risk of heart disease. Statins are prescription drugs, while red yeast rice is available as a dietary supplement. Although they fall under different regulations, statins and red yeast rice are both powerful chemicals that you should consider only when your doctor recommends them..
They Can Have the Same Active Ingredient
Red yeast rice is the product of fermenting rice with yeast called Monascus purpureus. A statin called lovastatin and red yeast rice contain the same cholesterol-lowering ingredient called monacolin K, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (See References 1). Red yeast rice can be a flavoring or coloring ingredient in Chinese food, and strains developed to lower cholesterol can vary in their concentration of monacolin K. Other types of statins may have similar active ingredients.
Effects on Cholesterol
Monacolin K is the cholesterol-lowering ingredient in lovastatin, which is a type of statin drug, and in red yeast rice, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (See References 1). It works by targeting the liver to reduce your body’s production of cholesterol. Daily doses of 2,400 milligrams of red yeast rice or 20 milligrams of lovastatin contain comparable amounts of monacolin K and can effectively lower cholesterol levels, according to research published in the December 2005 edition of the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” (See References 6).
Be Aware of Varying Regulation
The Food and Drug Administration regulates both statins and red yeast rice. Statins are a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs that are available by prescription only and are tightly regulated (See References 5). You can get red yeast rice without a prescription, but the Food and Drug Administration does not need to approve dietary supplements before they go on the market (See References 3). The lax regulation of dietary supplements means that you cannot be certain that the supplement is safe and contains the amount of monacolin K that the label claims.
Side effects of statins can include liver damage, cognitive impairment such as memory loss and confusion, a higher risk for developing diabetes and muscle pain and loss of strength, according to the Food and Drug Administration (See References 2). The side effects of red yeast rice are similar to those of lovastatin, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (See References 1). The institution also warns against taking red yeast rice when you are taking statins.