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Ancient Chinese remedy lowers cholesterol

The Chinese have had an effective cholesterol-lowering substance in their diet for centuries. Known as red yeast rice, it's used as a flavoring in dishes like Peking duck.

Red yeast rice is made by fermenting a certain type of yeast on a bed or rice. Records indicate the Ancient Chinese believed this yeast could improve heart health. Modern researchers in China tested the effectiveness of this ancient remedy to confirm its cholesterol-lowering powers.

In one study, researchers gave 600 milligrams (mg) of red yeast rice twice a day or 1,200 mg of a Chinese herb reputed to have cholesterol-lowering properties to people with high cholesterol. After eight weeks of treatment, the people taking the red yeast rice reduced their total cholesterol an average of 22 percent. The people taking the herb had an average reduction of only 7 percent.

In the United States, research also supports the effectiveness of red yeast rice. Pharmanex, a company that manufactures Cholestin, the first red yeast rice supplement marketed in the United States, helped fund a double-blind study of Cholestin's effectiveness at the University of California at Los Angeles. Researchers gave participants 2.4 grams of Cholestin daily or a placebo. After eight weeks, the people taking the Cholestin experienced an 18-percent decrease in their cholesterol levels, and the people taking the placebo experienced no change.

Other brands of red yeast rice supplements are now available in health food stores, drugstores, through mail order, and on the Internet.

If you decide to try a red yeast rice supplement, don't mix it with your prescription cholesterol-lowering drug. And don't stop taking your prescribed medication without consulting your doctor. Talk with him and tell him you want to try red yeast rice. If he agrees it's worth a try, ask to have your cholesterol levels checked to see if the supplement is as effective for you as your prescription.

Although no serious side effects have been documented with the use of red yeast rice, because it is similar to statin drugs, it may cause some of the same side effects. According to manufacturer's warning, you shouldn't take red yeast rice if you :

are at risk for liver disease, have active liver disease, or any history of liver disease

consume more than two drinks of alcohol a day

have a serious infection

have undergone an organ transplant

have a serious disease or physical disorder or have recently undergone major surgery

If you prefer the totally natural form, look for red yeast rice at specialty stores that carry Chinese foods. the natural product isn't standardized, so you won't know exactly how much you're getting. Don't substitute it for your prescription cholesterol-lowering drug. However, if you add it to your regular diet, and it seems to affect your cholesterol levels favorable, you may be able to cut back on your medication, with your doctor's guidance and approval.

     
     

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