Internal medicine expert Dr. John de Beixedon says many of his patients who don't want to be on prescription statin drugs prefer the natural approach.
"It's a natural herbal compound that actually gave birth to lovastatin and then mevastatin and all of the early statin drugs," said Dr. de Beixedon.
But buyer beware, a new report in the Archives of Internal Medicine found different brands don't offer the same cholesterol lowering effect. Monacolins are the active ingredient. Few contained the amount stated on the label.
Twelve different red yeast rice supplements were accessed for levels of monacolins. Although each one said that it contained 600 milligrams of active ingredient per capsule, authors of the study say they varied dramatically.
"The different brands may not only have different concentrations of active ingredient between them, but each batch might have a different concentration of an active ingredient," said Dr. de Beixedon.
The other problem is that some of the red yeast tested contained elevated levels of a fungus that could be toxic.
Dr. de Bexeidon says manufacturers should work hard to find the purest extracts, but patients shouldn't worry.
"There are toxins that we deal with everyday," said Dr. de Bexeidon.
So what should a patient do? Talk to your doctor about which brands appear to work consistently. And once you find the red yeast that works best for you, you should stick with one brand.
"If a doctor is going to treat a patient with red yeast rice extract, they need to make sure that the patient stays with the same brand," said Dr. de Bexeidon. "If they change their brand it is highly likely that the cholesterol control will be different."
Dr. de Beixedon says anyone who is taking red yeast rice supplements should always get their liver function levels tested when they check their cholesterol.
These supplements act just like statins and people who are sensitive to statins will be just as sensitive to this natural alternative.