red yeast capsules

 I wanted to know can a person with no known health problems take red yeast rice capsules safely. I want to kind of prevent my chances of having a heart attack when I get older. Thanks


Red yeast rice is a specific intervention for the lowering of cholesterol.  The compounds that naturally occur in this product are similar to those found in the prescription medications known as the statins which include Lipitor.  For this reason I would not recommend someone take Red Yeast Rice to prevent a heart attack in the absence of high cholesterol just the same as a regular doctor probably would not prescribe Lipitor to someone who does not have high cholesterol.

Now there are some exceptions to this rule.  Some individuals with high risk factors, or pre-existing diseases that make them very susceptible to having a heart attack, like diabetes, may get prescribed a statin medication in the absence of high cholesterol.  This is due to the fact that the action of this type of medication seems to be cardioprotective in more ways then just reducing cholesterol.  We saw more evidence of this recently when we discovered that some other cholesterol medications that are not statins, did not reduce the incidence of heart attacks despite the fact that they did lower cholesterol.

One speculation is that statin medications lower something called C-reactive protein.  This is a marker for inflammation in the body and specifically for inflammation in the artery which is a major risk factor for plaque formation.  It is thought that statins are able to lower arterial inflammation, thus reducing the likelihood of plaque formation and this is their primary mechanism of action in reducing heart disease, not lowering cholesterol.

In light of this, someone could theoretically take Red Yeast Rice or a low dose statin to reduce risk of heart attack even if cholesterol levels were normal.  However, I do feel more research is needed in this area before that recommendation is official.  Additionally, it is very important to make sure cholesterol levels do not fall too low.  Cholesterol is what your body uses to make many other important hormones including your sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen.  If cholesterol levels fall too low (anything below 130) your body will have trouble keeping up with sex hormone production and unwanted side effects can be expected.  Fatigue, poor focus, poor memory, loss of concentration and loss of libido or sexual function are all possible problems. 

Also, do not forget that these compounds inhibit the formation of a very important nutrient called CoQ10.  CoQ10 is one of your body's most powerful antioxidants and is the key ingredient for your body to be able to make energy.  So if you do choose to take Red Yeast Rice or a statin mediation make sure to supplement with at least 60mg-100mg of CoQ10 per day.

I would encourage you to explore other options that improve heart health such as exercise, weight loss, abundant intake of fruits and vegetables and consumption of good quality essential fatty acids like those found in fish oil. 

Back to all Questions     View More by Dr. Kevin Passero

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As a certified and fully trained Naturopathic Doctor, Passero has trained and preceptored with some of the nation's leading doctors in the field of natural medicine, working under the guidance of MD’s, Chiropractors, Naturopaths and Acupuncturists. Furthermore, he is currently the Vice President of the Maryland Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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