If you learned about a natural product that could help lower your cholesterol, wouldn’t you want
to buy it? Of course you would. Well, guess what. There is such a product. Because of
government controls, however, you can’t get this product anymore, at least not in its original
cholesterol lowering form. Why would the government do that, you may ask. Here’s why.
Red yeast rice is a form of rice fermented using red yeast. The Chinese have used this rice for
years as a spice, food preservative and colorant, as well as a dietary supplement. For more than
1,000 years, these people have also used red yeast rice medicinally claiming it improved blood
circulation, and relieved indigestion and diarrhea.
More recently, scientists have found that one of the active ingredients naturally produced when
rice is fermented by red yeast is Monacolin K, or Lovastatin. For those of you not familiar,
Lovastatin is the generic equivalent of one of the statin drugs; a class of the strongest, most
effective cholesterol lowering prescription medications. Unlike prescription Lovastatin which
contains 10 mg or more of this active ingredient, red yeast rice contains less than 2.5 mg of the
cholesterol lowering medication per 600 mg capsule. Red yeast rice has been marketed as a
dietary supplement under the names Cholestin and HypoCol.
Until 1999, red yeast rice was readily available as a dietary supplement. However, it was in that
year that clinical studies confirmed the effectiveness of red yeast rice with Lovastatin as one of
its ingredients in lowering cholesterol. When the Food and Drug Administration caught wind
there was a dietary supplement being sold that included a prescription medicine, they decided to
pull the supplement from the market. They defended their decision by claiming that since the
supplement contained a drug that normally required a doctor’s prescription; the red yeast rice
could not be sold over-the-counter in an unregulated form.
The Big Stick of the FDA
The FDA’s decision met with some controversy and was actually overturned later that year by the
court of the District of Utah. In 2000, however, the FDA triumphed when the 10th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that since red yeast rice does contain the prescription medicine
Lovastatin, even though it does occur naturally, it is subject to FDA rules.
After that time, most forms of red yeast rice disappeared from the shelves of pharmacies and
health food stores, in its original form anyway. You can still buy the supplement but because of
the FDA order red yeast rice is made using a different fermentation process which does not
So, that is the story of red yeast rice. Used by the Chinese for hundreds of years as a way to
increase blood circulation, federal government regulations forced vendors to clear this natural
supplement from their shelves. You can still buy red yeast rice, but don’t expect it to have any
big effect on your blood pressure. To have the benefits of the cholesterol lowering ingredient of
red yeast rice, you must get a doctor’s prescription.