Red yeast rice extract is a traditional Chinese medicine that is supposedly used to lower cholesterol levels. The extract is a substance from rice that’s been fermented with yeast called Monascus purpureus. For centuries, it is commonly used in China and other Asian countries. It’s also used as a food coloring, additive and preservative.
How does it lower cholesterol levels? The red yeast rice extract contains ingredients that include monacolins that control the cholesterol. It also contains sterols, isoflavones, and monounsaturated fatty acids called the “healthy fats”.
Some considers the red yeast rice as “natural” but scientific studies have not been conclusive yet. Some of it is sold as supplements but ideal dosage and long-term safety of the natural medicine is still unclear. Our bodies are different from one another; the red yeast rice may be helpful for some while it may be dangerous to others. Further, there are different brands of the red yeast rice extract with various ingredients that it’s difficult to assume its effectiveness or safety.
If you are allergic or sensitive to rice, red yeast or any members of the yeast family, you should avoid the medicine. Eye inflammation, hives, nose inflammation, severe allergic reactions, shortness of breath, sneezing and swelling under the skin have been reported with red yeast rice exposure.
Generally, side effects and interactions for red yeast rice extract may be similar to those low-dose “statin” drugs since it plays the same role and monacolin K is the same chemical compound as lovastatin.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the traditional medicine may case anorexia, back pain, bloating, colon inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, flu, hair loss, indigestion, loose stools, stomach inflammation, stomachache, and upset stomach.
It should be used cautiously in persons with skin disorders as rash has been reported with RYR use. For people who have abnormal liver function tests or liver disorders, or those using alcohol or any toxic agents to the liver, the RYR may affect liver function.
It may also be harmful to the kidneys. Also use carefully when taking with ranitidine as this may increase the risk of kidney damage.
RYR may worsen symptoms in people who have stomach problems such as gas, heartburn, inflammatory bowel disease and nausea.
It can also cause dizziness so use cautiously in people who tend to have dizziness or vertigo. Furthermore, it may also cause headaches.
Another side effect of RYR is it may increase the risk of muscle disease, muscle fiber breakdown and muscle pain so use carefully in people who have musculoskeletal disorders or those taking cyclosporine, cytochrome P450-3A blocking agents or macrolide antibiotics.
When using RYR, blood sugar levels may need to be monitored since it may affect blood sugar levels. It is advised to use with extreme caution in people with diabetes or low blood sugar.
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Use cautiously in people who have weakened immune system or those taking drugs that decrease the immune system including people who are undergoing surgery or an organ transplant.
RYR may also increase the risk of nerve damage. It is advised to use RYR with caution in people with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. It may also cause low blood pressure.
Be mindful if using drugs or herbs and supplements that lower the blood pressure. Also use cautiously when taking cardiac glycosides, as it may interact with the RYR.
RYR may decrease the effectiveness of thyroid medications and may affect thyroid hormone levels. It is considered possibly safe when taken by mouth to reduce cholesterol levels in doses of up to 2.4 grams daily for up to 12 weeks. Then use cautiously in doses higher than 2.4 grams daily for longer period.
Most especially, just avoid using red yeast rice extract in children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women since there is still a lack of sufficient safety information with its utilization.