Should you take Red Yeast Rice along with your fish oil supplement?
That’s a frequent question in my inbox.
My answer: No.
Here’s the short version:
If the Red Yeast Rice works, it’s illegal. If it’s legal, it won’t work.
And the long version:
Many people turn to Red Yeast Rice because they’ve heard it reduces cholesterol. (Yes, it can.)
Traditional Chinese Red Yeast Rice is a reddish rice that’s fermented with a special kind of mold. The finished product, Red Yeast Rice, contains a substance called Monacolin.
Monacolin is virtually the same as Lovastatin or the active ingredient in Mevacor, Lipitor and several other groups of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, at least from a chemical structure point of view. Your body won’t know the difference.
Red Yeast Rice was likely the inspiration for the original statin drug patent.
If you’re taking Red Yeast Rice, because it’s natural and works differently than Lipitor, you’re mistaken.
Monacolin from Red Yeast Rice and Lipitor do the exact same thing to your body.
They both block an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, which is involved in cholesterol synthesis in the body.
They both reduce cholesterol.
Red Yeast Rice Side Effects vs Statins
Since Red Yeast Rice and statins do the exact same thing to your body, it’s not surprising that they both have the same dangerous side effects of muscle cramping, CoQ10 depletion and brain-fog to list a few.
Except, with a statin drug, you know what you’re getting. With Red Yeast Rice, you’re, well, gambling.
A Side Story: The Original Inconvenient Truth
When Merck invented the original statin drug, Mevacor, they applied for a patent. Obviously! After all, they were about to make billions of dollars.
That’s why their original patent was for a mixture of statins and CoQ10. But CoQ10 by itself was available as a supplement and hence not patentable. Also, CoQ10 was extremely expensive. The bean counters at Merck decided that they’d pass on the CoQ10. And they sold their statin without any CoQ10.
It’s been 30 years and most doctors do not know this little fact. But Merck sat on the patent, so other drug companies could not mix their statins with CoQ10. That was 30 years ago and the situation has changed very little today.
During the 1990s, Red Yeast Rice supplements became very popular. They were cheap. They reduced cholesterol. And you didn’t have to see your doctor for it. People were happy and sales exploded.
Merck was losing sales to a cheap dietary supplement.
Not surprisingly, the Red Yeast Rice party came to a swift end when the FDA and Merck decided that Red Yeast Rice supplements with measurable amounts of Monacolin were infringing on Merck’s patent.
Never mind that Red Yeast Rice has been used regularly in Chinese cooking for centuries.
The small dietary supplement companies earnestly peddling Red Yeast Rice didn’t stand a chance against Merck and the Feds.
The party was over.
A NEW LAW: any Red Yeast Rice supplement with appreciable quantities of Monacolin was a drug. An unauthorized drug.
And if you were caught selling Red Yeast Rice, first you’d get a nasty letter from the FDA, asking you to stop. And the punishment for ignoring the Feds? Well, you can imagine.
For about a half dozen years, dietary supplement companies would not even think about selling Red Yeast Rice.
They were powerless against the FDA and Merck.
But things changed around 2004…
Scrutinizing the FDA regulations, supplement marketers found out that if you sold Red Yeast Rice WITHOUT any Monacolin, it wasn’t breaking the law.
Sure enough, the FDA looked the other way when these ‘dummy Red Yeast Rice’ products began flooding local drug stores.
Neither the FDA (nor Merck) cared.
They knew the truth…that without Monacolin, Red Yeast Rice was just colored rice powder.
But the consumers who were used to buying cheap and effective Red Yeast Rice were glad that after many years, their favorite cholesterol-killer was back!
People started buying the ‘toothless’ Red Yeast Rice.
But nothing happened.
Cholesterol wasn’t dropping.
Red Yeast Rice Rebirth
Emboldened by their sales and FDA nonchalance, supplement companies (some of them) slowly started sneaking small amount of Monacolin-rich Red Yeast Rice into their formulas.
Thanks to word of mouth, the brands that were ‘adulterating’ the toothless Red Yeast Rice with some Monacolin, started noticing brisk sales.
No one in the supplement industry talked about this. But it was all around us. We all knew where to get the good stuff. It was all from China.
‘Gimme the good stuff,’ was all you had to say. Nothing written and nothing promised. You paid a little more for the Monacolin-spiked stuff.
It was everywhere. (It is everywhere.)
The FDA finally started cracking down on these spiked brands. Most quickly went back to selling useless Red Yeast Rice.
Today’s Red Yeast Rice supplements fall into two categories:
- If a Red Yeast Rice supplement is legal, it has little or no Monacolin and it will not reduce your cholesterol.
- If your Red Yeast Rice has been reducing your cholesterol, know that you are buying a product that the FDA considers illegal.
A recent ConsumerLab.com test of several brands found that some had Monacolins and others didn’t. And you can’t tell by reading the label.
If you call your favorite Red Yeast Rice
dealer, uh…brand and ask them if their product contains Monacolins, you can almost hear them squirm in their chairs while they try to get you off the phone quickly.
A couple of other cautions
- ConsumerLab.com found a naturally occurring toxin (nephrotoxin) called Citrinin in several brands. Goes with the territory.
- All of it comes from China and all the baggage that China entails.
So that’s the long story of why you shouldn’t take Red Yeast Rice along with your fish oil – if the Red Yeast Rice works, it’s illegal. If it’s legal, it won’t work.
All this trouble for reducing cholesterol?!
I don’t get it. Total cholesterol is not a very revealing marker of your heart health or your overall health.
Cholesterol itself is not bad! Your body needs it. It’s present in every cell.
If your total cholesterol is higher than, say 250, it means that your doctor needs to open the hood and start poking around for irregularities.
Popping handfuls of Red Yeast Rice pills if your cholesterol is approaching 200 and calling it a day is dangerous. If your doctor does it, it’s lazy medicine. Why? Because it’s glossing over something more fundamental like poor diet, lack of exercise, or other problems.*
Besides getting medical attention, start cutting back on soda, juice and processed foods made with flour. These spike your blood glucose and insulin levels.
Reduce Omega-6 rich seed oils like corn, soybean, sunflower oils. These are potentially harmful in excess.
Eat more seafood and veggies.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.