Heart Health

Red Yeast Rice – an Alternative to Statins?

Red yeast rice (RYR) has been eaten for centuries, mainly in Asia. There it’s known for its medicinal properties in aiding digestion and circulation. In the West, it’s become increasingly popular as an alternative lipid-lowering agent, especially among people who can’t tolerate or aren’t comfortable taking prescription statin drugs.

Just what is it? Should you consider taking it if you have high cholesterol?

When rice is fermented with the fungus Monascus purpureus (a type of yeast), it takes on a reddish-purple color. It’s eaten fresh or dried and also pasteurized and sold as a paste. As the rice ferments, several chemical compounds are formed, including monacolin K, which is chemically identical to the drug lovastatin.

In controlled studies, RYR was shown to raise HDL (healthy lipids) and lower LDL and triglycerides (unhealthy lipids). A large Chinese study showed a marked decrease in heart attacks among patients taking RYR for nearly 5 years.

Here’s the difference between RYR and lovastatin:

Lovastatin is a prescription medication which is standardized and regulated by the government. You know just what (and how much) you’re getting.

RYR is an over-the-counter “food supplement”. The amount of monacolin K can vary from one product to another. In a recent study of 12 different brands of RYR, scientists found levels of monacolin K that varied widely – from 0.10 mg to 10.09 mg per capsule.

An additional concern with RYR is the possible presence of the toxin citrinin, another byproduct of the fermentation process. Four out of the 12 brands of RYR tested had high levels of citrinin.

So the main question is whether you want to take a regulated and standardized prescription drug or an unregulated and non-standardized food supplement.

If prescription statins don’t work for you, you may want to ask your physician about RYR. (It can have some of the same side effects as statins, so it should be taken under your doctor’s supervision.) Obviously there are companies who do produce a reliable product – the challenge is finding the right one.

As for me, I’ll stick with prescription statins until RYR becomes standardized and regulated.

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Heart Healthy Eating

You already know that eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains and fish is good for your health. But did you know how much these foods can actually help lower your risk of heart disease?

1. One serving a day of leafy green vegetables is associated with a 23% reduction in cardiovascular events.

2. Eat at least 2 to 3 servings of whole grains every day and your risk of having a heart attack may be decreased by 21%.

3. Two servings of fish each week is associated with a 27% reduction in risk of a fatal heart attack.

Eat all these and you may lower your risk of heart disease by over 20%. That equals or exceeds the results of some medications! (If you’re already on cholesterol-lowering medication, don’t stop taking them without consulting your physician.)

It’s easy enough to eat leafy greens – 1 cup of salad greens (dark green lettuce please, not iceberg) is one serving. Then there’s spinach, chard, kale, and a variety of Asian-style greens (like Napa cabbage and bok choy) that can be stir fried or used in soups, omelets and casseroles.

Kasha, bulgur, farro, barley, brown rice, quinoa and millet are just some of the whole grains to try. One way to cook them easily is to add them to a pot of boiling water – just like you’d cook pasta. When they’re done to your liking, drain in a strainer. Whole grains work as a side dish and as part of a m

ain course. Start your day with half a cup of cooked whole oats and you’ve already eaten one serving of whole grains!

If you enjoy fish, eating two servings a week shouldn’t be difficult. But with warnings ab

out mercury, farm-raised fish and endangered species, it’s often hard to know (or to find) the healthiest fish choices. And if you just don’t like fish, what are you supposed to do?

For cardiovascular health, fish oil is often recommended, especially if you don’t eat fןsh regularly. Fish oil contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which have been found to lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with known

heart disease. It may also lower blood pressure and slow the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque.

Dosage varies, depending on your age and state of health, so talk to your health care professional before starting to take fish oil capsules. If you’ve tried fish oil and stopped because it caused you to burp, store the capsules in the freezer and swallow them while they’re still frozen.

Next: Red Yeast Rice for Heart Health?

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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