Is Red Yeast Rice Safe?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Red Yeast Rice

Is Natural Always Better?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

is red yeast rice safeIs red yeast rice safe?  First, let’s take a quick look at statins.

Statin drugs save lives. When taken by people who have survived a heart attack, they have proven effectiveness at lowering the risk of a second heart attack.

But, statins are also dangerous. They can cause muscle damage, liver damage, and even kidney failure (statin side effects ). Statins can also cause diabetes  and memory loss.

Because of these side effects, many people are looking for more natural alternatives for lowering their cholesterol. Many other people are unable to take the statin drugs because of muscle pain and/or elevated liver enzymes.

One popular alternative to statin drugs is red yeast rice. Red yeast rice comes from traditional Chinese medicine, so it is natural. However, just because a supplement is natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it is either safe or effective. Red yeast rice is a perfect example. Many people think that red yeast rice is as effective as statins for reducing cholesterol levels. They believe red yeast rice side effects are non‐existent. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Is Red Yeast Rice Safe and Effective?

Is Red Yeast Rice Effective?

is red yeast rice effectiveIs red yeast rice safe and effective.  The active ingredients in red yeast rice are a class of compounds called monacolins, which are close analogs of the statin drugs. In fact, the most abundant monacolin in red yeast rice, monacolin K, is identical to the statin drug lovastatin (Mevacor). That destroys one myth. If a red yeast rice product contains as much monacolin K as a lovastatin pill, it would have the same benefits and the same side effects.

It only gets worse! In fact, you have no way of knowing how much monacolin K is in your red yeast rice supplement. Because lovastatin is a drug, the manufacturers of red yeast rice are caught in a Catch‐22 situation. If the manufacturers were to actually standardize or disclose the levels of monacolin K in their product, the FDA would consider it an unapproved drug and remove it from the market.

When manufacturers don’t standardize their active ingredients, bad things happen.

How bad, you might ask? A recent study (RY Gordon, Archives of Internal Medicine, 170: 1722‐1727, 2010) analyzed the concentration of active ingredients in 12 commercially available red yeast rice supplements. The results were appalling:

  • Total monacolins in the supplements ranged from 0.31 to 11.15 mg/capsule.
  • Monacolin K (lovastatin) ranged from 0.10 to 10.09 mg/capsule.

To put that into perspective, therapeutic doses of lovastatin range from 10 to 80mg/day. Most of the red yeast rice supplements had an insignificant amount of monacolin K. Only a few of the samples tested had enough monacolin K to be equivalent to the lowest therapeutic dose of lovastatin.

 

Is Red Yeast Rice Safe?

is red yeast rice dangerousAnother study (Mazzanti et al, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, DOI:10.1111/bcp.13171) found that red yeast rice with 5-7 mg of monacolin K had the same frequency of side effects as 20-40 mg of pure, pharmaceutical grade lovastatin. The most frequent side effects were muscle pain, muscle damage, liver injury, gastrointestinal reactions, and skin reactions. Hospitalization was required in 25% of the cases.

It gets even worse! The first study (RY Gordon, Archives of Internal Medicine, 170: 1722‐1727, 2010) also measured levels of a toxin called citrinin that is produced by a fungus that grows on red yeast rice. Citrinin is potentially toxic to the kidneys. This is not a toxin that you would find in a pharmaceutical product like lovastatin, but it was present at high levels in one third of the red yeast rice formulations tested.

What Does This Mean For You?

Is red yeast rice safe?  To sum it all up, if you were to go out and purchase a red yeast rice supplement.

  • You might get a batch with no active ingredients. It wouldn’t have any of the side effects of a statin drug, but it wouldn’t have any efficacy either.
  • You might get a batch that would have the same efficacy and the same side effects as a low dose statin drug.
  • You would have a 33% chance of getting a batch that was contaminated with a toxin that you would never find in a statin drug—one that might damage your kidneys.

I don’t know about you, but after reading those studies I have no desire to ever try a red yeast rice supplement.

If you are looking for a natural cholesterol-lowering supplement that is both safe, effective, and recommended by the National Institutes of Health, choose one containing 2 grams of plant stanols and sterols.

Is red yeast rice safe?  Not always.

 

The Bottom Line

Just because a supplement is natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it is either safe or effective. Red yeast rice is a perfect example. Many people think that red yeast rice is as effective as statins for reducing cholesterol levels. They believe red yeast rice side effects are non‐existent. Nothing could be further from the truth!

  • The active ingredients in red yeast rice are a class of compounds called monacolins, which are close analogs of the statin drugs. In fact, the most abundant monacolin, monacolin K, is identical to the statin drug lovastatin (Mevacor).
  • There is no standardization of red yeast rice supplements. One study looked at 12 red yeast rice supplements and found that the dose of monacolin K ranged from almost nothing to the equivalent of the lowest therapeutic dose of lovastatin.
  • Another study found that the side effects of red yeast rice were identical in type and frequency to low dose lovastatin.
  • Even worse, one third of the red yeast rice supplements tested contained a toxin called citrinin that is potentially toxic to the kidneys.
  • To sum it all up, if you were to go out and purchase a red yeast rice supplement,
    • You might get a batch with no active ingredients. It wouldn’t have any of the side effects of a statin drug, but it wouldn’t have any efficacy either.
    • You might get a batch that would have the same efficacy and the same side effects as a low dose statin drug.
    • You would have a 33% chance of getting a batch that was contaminated with a toxin that you would never find in a statin drug—one that might damage your kidneys.

Natural isn’t always better! I don’t know about you, but after reading those studies I have no desire to ever try a red yeast rice supplement.

If you are looking for a natural cholesterol-lowering supplement that is both safe, effective, and recommended by the National Institutes of Health, choose one containing 2 grams of plant stanols and sterols.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

Posted November 6, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Microbiome Mysteries

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

is our microbiome affected by exerciseIn a recent post,  What is Your Microbiome and Why is it Important,  of “Health Tips From The Professor” I outlined how our microbiome, especially the bacteria that reside in our intestine, influences our health. That influence can be either good or bad depending on which species of bacteria populate our gut. I also discussed how the species of bacteria that populate our gut are influenced by what we eat and, in turn, influence how the foods we eat are metabolized.

I shared that there is an association between obesity and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. At present, this is a “chicken and egg” conundrum. We don’t know whether obesity influences the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut, or whether certain species of gut bacteria cause us to become obese.

Previous studies have shown that there is also an association between exercise and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. In particular, exercise is associated with an increase in bacteria that metabolize fiber in our diets to short chain fatty acids such as butyrate. That is potentially important because butyrate is a primary food source for intestinal mucosal cells (the cells that line the intestine). Butyrate helps those cells maintain the integrity of the gut barrier (which helps prevent things like leaky gut syndrome). It also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune cells that reside in the gut.

However, associations don’t prove cause and effect. We don’t know whether the differences in gut bacteria were caused by differences in diet or leanness in populations who exercised regularly and those who did not. This is what the present study (JM Allen et al, Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 50: 747-757, 2018 ) was designed to clarify.  Is our microbiome affected by exercise?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

is our microbiome affected by exercise studyThis study was performed at the University of Illinois. Thirty-two previously sedentary subjects (average age = 28) were recruited for the study. Twenty of them were women and 12 were men. Prior to starting the study, the participants filled out a 7-day dietary record. They were asked to follow the same diet throughout the 12-week study. In addition, a dietitian designed a 3-day food menu based on their 7-day recall for the participants to follow prior to each fecal collection to determine species of gut bacteria.

The study included a two-week baseline when their baseline gut bacteria population was measured, and participants were tested for fitness. This was followed by a 6-week exercise intervention consisting of three supervised 30 to 60-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week. The exercise was adapted to the participant’s initial fitness level, and both the intensity and duration of exercise increased over the 6-week exercise intervention. Following the exercise intervention, all participants were instructed to maintain their diet and refrain from exercise for another 6 weeks. This was referred to as the “washout period.”

VO2max (a measure of fitness) was determined at baseline and at the end of the exercise intervention. Stool samples for determination of gut bacteria and concentrations of short-chain fatty acids were taken at baseline, at the end of the exercise intervention, and again after the washout period.

In short, this study divided participants into lean and obese categories and held diet constant. The only variable was the exercise component.

 

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

is our microbiome affected by exercise fitnessThe results of the study were as follows:

  • Fitness, as assessed by VO2max, increased for all the participants, and the increase in fitness was comparable for both lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise induced a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise increased fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids in the lean subjects, but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were largely reversed once exercise training ceased.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent of diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.” [Note: To be clear, the exercise-induced changes in both gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were independent of diet and contingent on the sustainment of exercise. However, only the production of short-chain fatty acids was dependent on obesity status.]

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

is our microbiome affected by exercise gut bacteriaThere are two important take home lessons from this study.

  • With respect to our gut bacteria, I have consistently told you that microbiome research is an emerging science. This is a small study, so you should regard it as the beginning of our understanding of the effect of exercise on our microbiome rather than conclusive by itself. It is consistent with previous studies showing an association between exercise and a potentially beneficial shift in the population of gut bacteria.

The strength of the study is that it shows that exercise-induced changes in beneficial gut bacteria are probably independent of diet. However, it is the first study to look at the interaction between obesity, exercise and gut bacteria, so I would interpret those results with caution until they have been replicated in subsequent studies.

  • With respect to exercise, this may be yet another reason to add regular physical activity to your healthy lifestyle program. We already know that exercise is important for cardiovascular health. We also know that exercise increases lean muscle mass which increases metabolic rate and helps prevent obesity. There is also excellent evidence that exercise improves mood and helps prevent cognitive decline as we age.

Exercise is also associated with decreased risk of colon cancer and irritable bowel disease. This effect of exercise has not received much attention because the mechanism of this effect is unclear. This study shows that exercise increases the fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids. Perhaps, this provides the mechanism for the interaction between exercise and intestinal health.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study has reported that:

  • Exercise induces a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise causes an increase in the number of gut bacteria that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial for gut health.
  • These effects are independent of diet, but do not appear to be independent of obesity because they were seen in lean subjects but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production are largely reversed once exercise training ceases.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent on diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.”

For more details and my interpretation of the data, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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