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Red Rice

December 17th, 2014



‘Red rice’ in this article does not refer to the rice given in prisons, nor is it in reference to brown rice.  Red rice in this instance is referring to the ancient Chinese recipe where rice is fermented with red yeast.  Before artificial colouring became available, Chinese people used this red yeast to colour their food.

Later on, modern medicine would find that red yeast rice can lower the level of blood cholesterol, something the Chinese have known for centuries.  It has been used to treat heart diseases, among others things. This type of rice contains Lovastatin, a type of statin substance used to lower blood cholesterol and treat heart diseases. Those who use red yeast rice as medicine claim that it is a natural cure without negative side effects.

However, as is the case with all things natural, studies have found that other than Lovastatin, red yeast rice also contains many other substances, which varies from grain to grain and quite can be difficult to measure. Due to this ever-changing variable, red yeast rice has yet to be certified as a cholesterol lowering medicine. Furthermore, there is even less evidence regarding its side effects, as it cannot be determined yet what else it contains, and how it would interfere with absorption.

As the properties of red yeast rice are akin to statin, this may also mean that possible side effects can be similar.  Therefore, a physician should monitor use of red yeast rice as it may react with other medication.  For those that are eating red yeast rice to regulate blood cholesterol, regular blood tests should be done to monitor progress.

My patients always ask whether they can halt the use of cholesterol lowering medication once the blood cholesterol level has stabilized, as they are afraid they would have to depend on the pills for life. Let me explain in an easy way. First, it is important to understand that cholesterol level in blood tests has its own standard, but this standard is for those without any coronary issues. For those that do have coronary issues, , especially in the artery, it is best to maintain blood cholestoreal at the lowest possible level.

As to how to lower the number, there are three ways: watch what you eat, exercise, and use medication. No matter which way you choose, it has to be done for life.

For those who have slightly high cholesterol level (compared to the standard), diet and exercise should be enough. A blood test should be carried out six to eight weeks after this change in lifestyle, and if the result still shows that the cholesterol level is still slightly above the standard, it may be necessary to seek medication. However, a healthy exercise and diet program should still be maintained.

But if your cholesterol level is very high, a strict diet and exercise program may only reduce your cholesterol level by 15 percent.  Therefore it may be time to consult your physician and take medication. However, diet and exercise must be done simultaneously. The three need to go hand in hand, together, forever!

If there are side effects from taking medication, it can be given up, but this will mean that cholesterol level will increase again.   When prescribing medication to patients, physicians will schedule regular blood tests to monitor the levels, and determine the positive and negative benefits of the medication.   If the blood tests start to show negative effects, the medication has to be changed. This way the negative effects will not accumulate and become too severe.

Back to the red yeast rice, just because it is natural doesn’t mean that it should be consumed without the knowledge and support of your personal physician.  It is always best to be cautious, and take regular blood tests to ensure your safety.

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.



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