(NaturalNews) Research just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes a nonprescription, natural supplement -- red yeast rice -- has significant cholesterol-lowering effects. However, one important part of this story is that this isn't really a new discovery at all. Red yeast rice, a bright reddish purple fermented rice cultivated with the mold Monascus purpureus, has been used in Chinese medicine for more than a millennium to treat heart ills and other health problems.
The new study was a randomized controlled trial conducted by doctors at Chestnut Hill Hospital in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. David Becker, MD, and his research team studied 62 patients whose super high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol put them at risk for heart attack or stroke. Why weren't these people already on statin drugs, the supposedly miraculous cholesterol lowering "wonder" drugs? All of them had a history of trying those medications but had to stop them because of severe side effects often reported by statin users, including muscle pain and weakness.
Half of the research subjects were given 1,800 mg of red yeast rice twice a day for 24 weeks and the other half took inactive placebo pills. After the first 12 weeks, the study participants taking red yeast rice showed a significant improvement in their levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol. In fact, on average their cholesterol dropped an amazing 43 points. The placebo group had an LDL drop of only 11 points. After 24 weeks, there was a 35 point drop in "bad" cholesterol levels in the red yeast rice group. The researchers think this second cholesterol measurement showed less of a decrease than the earlier tests simply because some of the study participants may have stopped taking their supplements.
Another important finding: the "good" cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) count, remained the same in both groups. This indicates red rice yeast only lowers the artery damaging type of cholesterol. What's more, the red yeast rice did not produce the common side effects like elevated liver enzymes and weakness that are quite common in people taking prescription statin drugs.
In their Annals of Internal Medicine paper, the researchers concluded that while more research is needed, red yeast rice supplements may provide an alternative treatment for people with high cholesterol levels who cannot take statin drugs because of the medications' side effects.
Red yeast rice may not be totally side effect free. But side effects for the most part appear to be mild. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medline information web site reports red yeast rice can cause mild headache and abdominal discomfort and should not be used by people with liver disease. On the other hand, reports of serious side effects from statins have continued to mount over the past few years. They range from muscle pain so severe it interferes with daily activities to serious liver damage. Moreover, as previously reported in NaturalNews, the drugs have been linked to an increase in prostate cancer in overweight men (http://www.naturalnews.com/025218_cancer_Pro...) and to the development of serious eye problems, too (http://www.naturalnews.com/025058_drugs_eye_...).
So why is red yeast rice rarely -- if ever -- prescribed while statin drugs are being taken by 11 million to 30 million Americans? Because Big Pharma has consistently fought the concept that a natural, low cost, over-the-counter product could work as well as prescription statin medications (and most likely be far safer, too). According to the NIH web site, there has been an ongoing and protracted legal and industrial dispute about whether red yeast rice is a drug or a dietary supplement involving the manufacturers of red yeast supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the pharmaceutical industry -- specifically Big Pharma producers of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor prescription drugs, the official name for statins.
Red Yeast Rice for Dyslipidemia in Statin-Intolerant Patients: A Randomized Trial, Becker et al. Annals of Internal Medicine.2009; 150: 830-839