Far too many of us are walking around with high cholesterol levels, a problem now affecting children as well as adults. Elevated LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels are a recognized risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
If you've been told you have high cholesterol the first thing to do is review your diet and lifestyle habits. You can have a significant impact on cholesterol levels by changing to a Mediterranean-style diet, lessening your intake of saturated fat and fried foods, and exercising on a consistent basis.
If these actions are not sufficient on their own, you and your doctor will likely discuss the use of medication, which typically means statins. Statin drugs are quite effective at lowering cholesterol, but some people are unable to use them due to significant side effects like muscle pain and weakness, fatigue and liver problems. For these people there are as yet few good drug options available.
Red yeast rice is a supplement made from rice fermented with Monascus purpureus yeast and is known to naturally contain some of the same active ingredients found in select statin drugs, but in lower concentrations. A recent study suggests that for people who are unable to use a prescription statin agent to control their high cholesterol, red yeast rice could be a reasonable and effective option.
BUT - any agent that has actions within the body could have harmful actions, too, based on use and dosage. Red yeast rice is no different in this regard - some of the same side effects seen with statin drugs (muscle aches and pains, weakness, fatigue, liver damage) have been reported with red yeast rice.
While the risk of side effects appears to be significantly less with red yeast rice than with statin drugs, the risk is very real even with red yeast rice. Regulations are in place regarding good manufacturing practices for vitamin and supplement companies, but finding a high quality supplement that contains an appropriate amount of red yeast rice can be a major challenge.
Whether using a statin drug or red yeast rice, experts recommend being sure that your vitamin D level is within the optimal range (some of the side effects seen with these agents may be associated with low vitamin D). Some practitioners also recommend using a supplement called CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) together with statins or statin-like agents.
High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is a risk factor for illness that can often be addressed solely through good dietary and lifestyle habits. If medication is required you can speak with your doctor about a trial of red yeast rice, especially if you've had some difficulty with statin drugs in the past. Be aware that a small number of people experience the same kind of side effects with red yeast rice that can be seen with statin drugs, and that red yeast rice must typically be taken 2 times a day.
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