Red Yeast Rice Extract Combats Heart Disease
October 18, 2007—A red yeast rice extract called xuezhikang may lower heart disease risk in seniors who have already suffered a heart attack.
Red yeast rice is rice that has been fermented by the yeast Monascus purpureus. The extract can be prepared in one of three ways; xuezhikang is the Chinese name given to the preparation made by mixing the rice and red yeast with alcohol and then processing it to remove the rice gluten. Red yeast rice has historical uses in China as a digestive aid and circulation enhancer. It is also widely used in Asia as a preservative, food coloring agent, flavor enhancer, and as an ingredient in red wine. Extracts of red yeast rice also have lipid-lowering properties similar to that of statin drugs.
Previous studies have shown that xuezhikang can effectively lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, while raising heart-healthy HDL cholesterol. The new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, was designed to examine the effect of xuezhikang on the risk of heart disease in people with a history of cardiovascular disease.
Participating in the trial were 1,445 Chinese people ages 65 to 75. About half of them were given 0.6 grams of xuezhikang two times per day and the other half was given a placebo two times per day for four years.
Xuezhikang reduced total cholesterol levels by over 12% and LDL cholesterol levels by almost 18%. Triglyceride levels also dropped in the xuezhikang group and HDL levels rose significantly compared with the placebo group.
Xuezhikang treatment reduced the rate of new coronary events including nonfatal heart attacks, sudden death from cardiac causes, and other heart-related deaths by almost 37%. People taking xuezhikang were also 48% less likely to die from other causes such as cancer and stroke than were people in the placebo group. Adverse effects of xuezhikang were rare and included gastrointestinal upset, allergic reactions, muscle pain, and swelling (edema). The rates of adverse effects were similar between the xuezhikang and placebo groups.
“This is the first study demonstrating that treatment with xuezhikang is safe and effective for the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease in older Chinese people,” the study’s authors concluded.
As a cautionary note, people who are taking red yeast rice extracts should consider supplementing with 30 to 60 mg of coenzyme Q10 per day, as red yeast rice extracts may inhibit the body’s production of this important nutrient.
(J Am Geriatr Soc 2007;55:1015–22)
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Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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