Low density lipoproteins (LDL, in short) are also referred as bad cholesterol. These fats shrink the size of your blood vessels; they form a deposit – like plaque – on the walls of these vessels. Once the vessels contract, flow of blood becomes less. A lesser blood flow reduces supply of oxygen and other nutrients to various parts of your body. Over a period of time, accumulation of these fats is closely linked to incidence of several near-fatal as well as fatal cardiac conditions. LDL fats are known to increase the risks of cardiac dysfunction, cardiac arrests as well as strokes. Red yeast rice is consumed as a superfood to control LDL levels and triglycerides. You are however advised to stay aware of side effects red yeast rice may trigger.

Blood cholesterol has three types of lipids in it namely, low density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol, high density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol and triglycerides. Bad cholesterol (i.e., LDL) mostly settles on your arterial walls, and thus can thin down the flow of blood. On the other hand, good cholesterol or HDL does not build-up inside vessels; instead, these fats are carried to the liver and excessive amounts of such lipids are discharged. It is needless to state bad cholesterol needs to be minimized in order to reduce likely risks of cardiac conditions like heart failure, cardiac arrests or strokes.

A marked increase in LDL level can arise due to many factors; key among them are foods you take regularly (diets with high percentage of saturated fats or trans-fats can cause LDL), drugs you are advised to take (especially, meds such as steroidal drugs or chemotherapy / cancer meds.), your genetic make-up (genes influence the risk levels) and above all, the type of habits you have (for example, smoking incessantly and drinking excessive levels of alcohol are unhealthy habits) or the lifestyle you lead (a sedentary way of living with no workouts or leading a stress-filled life bear more risks).

The most important aspect of bad cholesterol is – it does not show up with any characteristic signs. One best way to assess LDL level is by a diagnostic test called lipid profile. If your LDL is below 100 milligrams (mg) per dL (mg / dL), it is considered as a healthy level. It is a good practice to check the lipid profile of your blood once in say, 5 years. However, if you have a family history of heart attack or other cardiac ailments, it is highly recommended to check blood lipid levels at least once every year.

Red yeast rice and LDL (bad cholesterol)

Red yeast rice is a food product made by the fermentation of rice (especially, the red variant of rice). It is widely sold in groceries and heath food retail chains. However, you need to remember that red yeast rice sold as supplements are not genuine products. Carefully fermented red rice is considered to have proven capabilities to reduce LDL levels in blood. Not stopping with LDL, the genuine variant of red rice is also assumed to be effective in decreasing the level of triglycerides.

As noted, reduction of both LDL and triglycerides are essential to decrease risks of heart attacks, cardiac arrests and other heart disorders. Of late, some evidences have been reported about this rice’s ability to treat high LDL cholesterol levels in people living with HIV AIDS. Studies are now underway to check the effectiveness of red yeast rice in treating high blood pressure (i.e., hypertension). It is now quite early to draw conclusions on its antihypertensive properties. More empirical results are awaited to safely conclude the effectiveness of this rice to reduce high blood pressure. Other exploratory studies are presently pursued to determine red yeast rice and its ability to control blood sugar, minimise damage of liver (by reducing the quantum of liver enzymes), boost abdominal health as well as gastric wellbeing.

Side effects of red yeast rice

Foremost of all things, intake of red yeast rice as a dietary supplement or for medical uses does not have a clearance from food and drug administration (FDA). Hence, this rice variant is not considered as a substitute for anti-hypertensives or any other such meds. You need to know that this rice is available only as herb-based supplement.

Red yeast rice is also known to trigger a few discomforts and side effects. Most commonly experienced side effects are difficulties to pass stool (constipation), abdominal pain, discomforts in your stomach such as cramps or pain. People who breathed the powder present in red yeast rice pills / capsules experienced breathing difficulties and a few other allergies.

Adverse interactions

You are advised not to consume alcohol while taking this rice. Intake of alcohol with this rice is known to cause a severe damage to the liver. Also, a few herb-based products and supplements – such as kava, pennyroyal oil or comfrey are known to adversely impact your liver; most of these supplements are known to damage the liver. Hence, intake of red yeast rice along with one or more of these products can worsen the condition of the liver. Also, a few drugs may need your liver to process them. Such drugs may see a drop in their efficacy levels when you take red yeast rice along with them. A few examples of drugs processed with the support of liver include antihypertensive drugs like diltiazem as well as meds like clarithromycin, erythromycin, etc.

Red yeast rice may generate a few harmful side effects when taken along with a few coenzymes – especially, products containing ubiquinone Q10-based coenzymes, etc. Among foods, grapefruit or its juice can interact adversely with red yeast rice and may lead to undesired reactions. It is hence strongly advised not to take grapefruit, its pulp or juice while consuming red yeast rice.

Muscular discomforts

Another serious side effect is incidence of muscular problems such as pains, spasms or cramps. It is important to know that the side effects of this rice are similar to those triggered by the intake of statins – especially, drugs like lovastatin. In very rare cases, a small number of people have also noticed signs of kidney problems. Renal health conditions – such as failure of kidney – may occur due to the presence of a substance called citrinin. It is essential to note that traces of citiricin are found in improperly or inadequately fermented red yeast rice. However, recent trials done on this rice, sold in groceries or health food chains did not detect significant traces of this contaminating chemical.

Immuno-suppressants, cholesterol reducing meds and red yeast rice
Red yeast rice is also likely to work adversely when taken along immunosuppressant meds such as cyclosporine. People who took cyclosporine with this rice variant observed muscular discomforts such as spasms and pain. Similarly, other types of drugs taken for lowering cholesterol levels – say, meds like gemfibrozil – have also led to musculoskeletal conditions such as pain, spasms, etc.

It is important to follow all the instructions printed on the label before starting to take red yeast rice. The quantum of rice needs to be in line or within the recommended portion. An overuse of this rice is not advised as it may lead to gastric or abdominal discomforts. As a safe practice, always take this rice along with a meal. It is equally important to know that a long term intake of this rice is unlikely to cause any major discomforts or adverse side effects. In some instances, people have taken the rice for as long as 3 years and more, without reporting any major side effects.

Pregnant women and women who are nursing a baby

A few lab-based studies – done on animals – resulted in congenital defects in their offspring. Hence, red yeast rice is thought to be unsafe for women who are pregnant. So, women who are planning to become pregnant or those who are already expecting a baby need to stay careful with this rice. It is strongly recommended to talk to your treating doctor before starting to take this rice.

Clinical evidences are not available about ingredients of red yeast rice that may pass through mother’s milk. It is hence no clear if it may cause any serious health problems to babies consuming such milk. Women who are breastfeeding are advised not to take this rice while they are nursing their baby. It is a good practice to start taking this rice once your baby is weaned away from mother’s milk (i.e., your baby has started consuming semi-solid or solid foods).

Red yeast rice is believed to have a substance known as monacolin-K. The chemical structure and composition of this substance resembles a few active ingredients of statins. Hence, it is highly recommended not to take this rice along with statins – especially, cholesterol-reducing statins like simvastatin, lovastatin, etc. As the manufacturing practices used to make this rice are not approved by the FDA, most processes are not yet standardized. Hence, some labels may contain a substantially lesser amount of monacolin-K. However, red yeast rice procured from some reputed labels / manufacturers are known to have the stipulated levels of active ingredients. In sum, it is important to buy red yeast rice only from reputed manufacturers and vendors.

Beyond any doubt, the red yeast rice costs lesser than statins; but, the catch is the quality of this rice product and the extent of therapeutic ingredients as well as medicinal properties each pack contains varies. As noted, spurious makers of the powdered form of this rice often pack it with abysmally low levels of monacolin-K; cholesterol-reducing properties are not very pronounced in such spurious supplements.

Lastly, taking the right quantum of red yeast rice is important to prevent risks of overdosing. Those who aim to reduce their cholesterol levels need to take about 1300 milligrams (mg) once a day. At this quantity, this rice can be taken for a fairly longer term of say, more than 3 years. People who are affected by HIV AIDS and also have a higher percentage of lipids can take a dose of 1100 mg for upto 7 weeks. Above all, it is always recommended to talk to your treating physician before starting to take red yeast rice.

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