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By the way, doctor: Does red yeast rice reduce cholesterol?

Updated: October 01, 2008

Q. I've heard that red yeast rice can help lower cholesterol. What can you tell me about its effectiveness and safety?

A. Red yeast rice is white rice fermented with a species of yeast that gives it a red color. It's been used medicinally in China for hundreds of years and is a dietary staple in many Asian countries, where it's also ground into an extract and used as a coloring agent in various dishes. Red yeast rice contains compounds called monacolins, which inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme critical to cholesterol production in the body. This is the same enzyme that's blocked by statin drugs, which reduce cholesterol and cardiovascular risk. In fact, one of the monacolins in red yeast rice — ​monacolin-K — is lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription statin drug Mevacor.

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