Red Yeast Rice and Cholesterol

  • Medical Author:
    Dennis Lee, MD

    Dr. Lee was born in Shanghai, China, and received his college and medical training in the United States. He is fluent in English and three Chinese dialects. He graduated with chemistry departmental honors from Harvey Mudd College. He was appointed president of AOA society at UCLA School of Medicine. He underwent internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship training at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

View the Cholesterol Levels Slideshow Pictures

How effective are HypoCol, Cholestin, and Xuezhikang in lowering lipids?

Chinese scientists conducted most of the animal and human studies on this issue, using either Zhitai or Xuezhikang. The results of some 17 studies involving approximately 900 Chinese subjects with modestly elevated cholesterol levels have been published. In eight ofthese studies, there was a control group that received a placebo (a pill with no active ingredients) for comparison purposes. In nine of the studies, there was no placebo control group.

These studies consistently showed that Zhitai and Xuezhikang:

  • lower total cholesterol (by an average of 10% to 30%),
  • lower LDL cholesterol (by an average of 10% to 20%),
  • lower triglycerides (by an average of 15% to 25%), and
  • increase HDL (by an average of 7% to 15%).

Scientists at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition studied Cholestin in a 12-week, double blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 83 American adults with borderline-high to moderately elevated cholesterol. They found that Cholestin (when red yeast rice was an ingredient in this product) reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels but had no effect on HDL cholesterol. This study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1999;69:231-7).

Lowering LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol prevents atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque) of the heart's arteries. Since atherosclerosis causes heart attacks, lowering the LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol should lower the risk of heart attacks. In fact, several large, long-term, placebo-controlled clinical trials have shown clearly that lowering LDL cholesterol with diet and statin drugs [pravastatin (Pravachol) , lovastatin (Mevacor), and simvastatin (Zocor) reduces the risk of heart attacks. No large, long-term studies of red yeast rice products for the prevention of heart attacks have yet been conducted. However, animal studies are underway at UCLA comparing red yeast rice to a statin drug (such as Mevacor) for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/14/2015

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