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Contamination Is A Common Problem in Red Yeast Rice Products

Jul 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The popular red yeast rice supplements that tout cholesterol-lowering abililties, vary dramatically depending on brand.  Some brands contain much less of the active ingredient proven to be scientifically effective; others contain contaminants, according to new analysis by ConsumerLab.  Four of the 10 products ConsumerLab tested contained a toxic substance called citrinin.  "Our research indicates that consumers need to be very careful when choosing red yeast rice products, because we found a 100-fold variation in the amount of active compounds across the products," Dr. Tod Cooperman, the president of the White Plains, New York-based independent testing company, told Reuters Health.

Red yeast rice is produced by fermenting yeast with rice, with the resultant product containing lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor.  Mevacor is in the drug class known as statins, which are used to treat high cholesterol.  While studies show red yeast rice may be effective in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, comparisons are impossible due to the wide differences among the various brands.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no control over herbal products, which are not required to have labeling disclosing lovastatin amounts.

ConsumerLab checked the lovastatin content and for citrinin contamination in 10 red yeast rice products.  Citrinin can be produced in the fermentation process, is toxic in animals, and may be harmful to humans.  All the tested products were labeled as containing 600 milligrams of red yeast rice; however, lovastatin content varied from 0.1 milligrams--found in Walgreen's Finest Natural Red Yeast Rice--to 10.6 milligrams.  To achieve the cholesterol lowering benefits of red yeast rice, one would need to consume enough of the product to ingest five to 15 milligrams of lovastatin, based on the person’s initial cholesterol level, said Cooperman.  The four products with the least potent formulations—which included the Walgreen's product--also contained citrinin and include Natural Balance Red Yeast Rice Concentrated Extract, Solaray(r) Red Yeast Rice, and VegLife(r) 100% Vegan Red Yeast Rice.

Cooperman warned that consumers should avoid potentially contaminated products and should be aware that red yeast rice can cause many of the side effects seen with statin drugs, such as muscle and kidney damage.

Recently, the FDA issued a warning that some brands of red yeast rice supplements may contain lovastatin and should not be used:  Red Yeast Rice sold by Swanson Health Products Inc. and manufactured by Nature's Value Inc. and Kabco Inc.; Red Yeast Rice/Policosanol Complex also sold by Swanson Health Products Inc. and manufactured by Nature's Value Inc. and Kabco Inc.; Cholestrix, sold by Sunburst Biorganics.  The presence of lovastatin in these three products is potentially dangerous because there's no way for someone consuming the products to know what level or quality of lovastatin might be in the red yeast rice.  Lovastatin is known to dangerously interact with other medications and, on its own, Lovastatin can cause other serious health problems.  Lovastatin is a prescription-only medication that should only ever be used by patients under the advice of their physician and with a prescription.

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