Red yeast rice extract is yeast grown on fermented rice. It is found naturally in certain Asian foods, including Peking Duck, and is commonly used in powdered form as a food coloring. It is also known as "nature's statin" and is used as a home remedy for reducing LDL cholesterol. Red yeast rice contains monacolin K - the same ingredient in the statin Mevacorl, which acts to block a key enzyme necessary to make cholesterol in the body. It may also contain isoflavinoids, monosaturated fats, and sterols that contribute to cholesterol lowering effects.
Several studies have shown positive support for the lowering of LDL's, and it appears to be safe even when used in combination with prescribed statin medications. However, a physician should supervise it's use, since it is equivalent of a dose of statin.
Red yeast rice does not come without side effects, however. Since it is a statin, the potential for muscle damage and liver toxicity is a major concern. It is usually recommended to take CoEnzyme Q-10 with statin medications to avoid muscle break-down. Mild adverse effects include dizziness, low appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach aches. Also, the quality of over-the-counter medications can be inconsistent, and many of the products available in the U.S. have not been found to contain significant amounts of the active ingredient.
Bottom Line: When it comes to OTC supplements and nutraceuticals, most are a waste of money because they fall through the cracks of FDA regulations. Always check with a physician, pharmacist, or nutrition professional before sampling health food store potions.