The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Red Yeast Rice: Get the Facts!

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Red Yeast Rice (RYR) has been used for centuries in China as a culinary and medicinal product. It is said to lower cholesterol level, improve blood circulation, and help with digestive problems. The yeast naturally produces monacolins (a statin), which help to minimize the production of cholesterol in the liver. Dietary supplements containing RYR have been marketed to help lower blood levels of cholesterol, reporting the same beneficial effects as the cholesterol-lowering drug, lovastatin.


In 2006, Liu et al.1 published a meta-analysis of clinical trials studying RYR. The article reviewed 93 published, controlled clinical trials. Overall findings indicated that over a 12 week period, total cholesterol was reduced by 35 mg/dL, LDL-cholesterol by 28 mg/dL, triglycerides by 35 mg/dL, and HDL-cholesterol increased by 6 mg/dL. Adverse effects were reported in 1.3-36% of study participants. The amount of RYR used in the majority of these studies was 1200-2400 mg/day, containing approximately 10 mg total monacolins.

Dietary Supplements

Due to its drug-like properties, the Food and Drug Administration bans the sale of red yeast rice products that contain anything more than a trace amount of monacolin K.  Not only are RYR supplements legally banned from containing more than negligible amounts of monacolin K, but they are also unable to state the amount of monacolin K found in their product. As a result, the consumer is incapable of making an informed decision as to the potential effectiveness of the supplement.


RYR has shown similar side effects as lovastatin.  Ingestion greater than a 12-week period has been associated with myopathy (muscle pain and weakness), rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue), kidney, and liver damage.

If you are considering taking RYR…

  • Speak to a health professional and discuss all alternative health supplements that you are using.
  • Do not take in place of conventional drugs for lowering cholesterol.
  • Do not take along with prescription statin drugs.
  • Do not use if you are pregnant or considering pregnancy.  Nursing mothers should also avoid RYR products.
To learn more about other dietary supplements like Fish Oil, vitamin D, and ergogenic aids, register for Providing Dietary Guidance.


1Liu J, Zhang J, Shi Y, Grimsgaard S, Alraek T, Fønnebø V (2006). "Chinese red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus) for primary hyperlipidemia: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials". Chin Med 1: 4. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-1-4. PMC 1761143. PMID 17302963.

Red Yeast Rice: An Introduction. Retrieved March 25, 2014 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM);

Red Yeast.  Retrieved March 25, 2014, National Institute of Health website

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Glane23