Chinese Red Yeast Rice: Good for the Heart?

Health Professional

Since the 1970s, studies have reported that Chinese red yeast rice may be useful in lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

The use of red yeast rice in China was first documented in the Tang Dynasty in 800 A.D, where it was renowned as being a mild aid for indigestion, diarrhoea, blood circulation, spleen and stomach health.

Red yeast rice is made by fermenting rice with yeast called Monascus purpureus, resulting in a purple form of rice. In many Asian countries it is used as a food preservative, spice, coloring, seasoning, ingredient of rice wine, and also herbal medicine.

Preliminary research

A new study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology (2008), has found that red yeast rice may be useful in reducing the risk of repeat heart attacks in people who have already suffered from one.

The study investigated 4,870 men and women, who had suffered a heart attack within five years. They were randomly assigned to take 600 milligrams of yeast rice extract each day, or a placebo.

The study found that:

  • Participants who took the extract reduced their relative risk of a coronary event by 45%.
  • Risk of death from cardiovascular disease in the extract group was about 1/3 that of the placebo group.
  • Need for surgery to improve blood supply to the heart was also reduced by around 1/3.
  • The suggestion that red yeast rice may be beneficial is not particularly surprising, since one of the cholesterol lowering drugs initially used in the medical world, Lovastatin, was originally extracted from yeast rice.
  • Additional studies are, however, necessary before a firm recommendation can be made.
  • Senior author of the study, Dr. David Capuzzi, emphasized that the study findings do not apply to the red yeast extract sold in health food store, for example Cholestin.

Cautions and indications from this study:

  • The extract used in the study contained red yeast rice and other compounds - further studies are therefore necessary to assess if the other compounds also had a beneficial effect.
  • Products containing red yeast rice extract can be purchased independently, however their effects may be unpredictable, since they are usually not standardized.
  • At present, scientific evidence points towards the use of tried and tested prescription drugs, such as the statins.
  • Chinese takeaways may contain some of the beneficial factors contained in yeast rice, but don't be mislead - they can be high in fat, and/or sugar* As present, it is too soon to say whether using red yeast rice is a beneficial replacement for more conventional medicines, and although the evidence certainly sounds convincing, further studies are needed to confirm the benefit of red yeast rice.

Please remember, if you are worried about your cardiovascular risk, consult a professional medical doctor prior to supplementing with alternative medicine.

Read more from Melanie:

Tea Does Your Heart Good: Learn Which Kinds and How Much

Are Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Necessary for a Healthy Heart?

How to Makeover Your Unhealthy Snacks

Melanie Thomassian is a professional dietitian, and author of the award winning