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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Diets – How to Spot a Fad

Diets have been around forever. Whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds or a lot, you’d like to do it easily and as quickly as possible. The diet industry is ready and waiting – there are hundreds of “quick fix” and “miracle” diets claiming to be the best approach to weight loss. All you have to do is…

Here’s where it gets tricky. It’s tempting to try something new and different. Or to buy special food, supplements and books that promise quick, easy weight loss. But before you do, here’s what to look out for:

1. Is the diet based on drastically reducing calories? Starvation-type diets rely on a simple trick: When deprived of food, the body’s natural reaction is to dump water. So most of the weight you lose on a very low-calorie diet is water. After you start eating normally, the body acts like a sponge and sucks up the lost water and you regain the weight.

2. Does the diet require you to buy pills, herbs, nutrition bars or supplements? There’s no such thing as a magic pill. Herbs and supplements will not speed up your metabolism, suppress your appetite or block the absorption of food, as they might promise. Besides, most supplements are not regulated. Many of them don’t contain what they say they do, and some have even been found to contain contaminants. Prescription weight-loss drugs are another matter, but require the supervision of your health-care provider.

3. A diet that eliminates meals or whole food groups is likely to lack essential nutrients. Likewise, a diet that focuses on eating just one particular food may come up short in important vitamins and minerals. While high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets may be safe and effective, it’s best to use them for short periods of time under medical supervision.

How else can you spot a fad diet?

It promises a quick fix

The claims sound too good to be true

It draws simplistic conclusions from complex data

It’s based on studies that are not peer-reviewed or are too small to draw conclusions

It’s selling you a specific product

Successful weight-loss involves good nutrition, portion-control, mindful eating and exercise. These long-term life style changes are much more reliable and healthy than the latest fad diet.

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More on Vitamin Supplements

Not long ago I wrote about vitamin and antioxidant supplements. (See:

There’s a tremendous amount of research being done on the subject. Recently two more articles caught my attention:

Vitamin Supplements and Exercise

“If you exercise to promote health, you shouldn’t take large amounts of antioxidants,” says Dr. Michael Ristow, a nutritionist at the University of Jena in Germany. He tested the metabolic effects of moderate doses of vitamins C and E on young men who were exercising.

The vitamin supplements seem to have cancelled out some of the positive effects of exercising.

“… antioxidants in general cause certain effects that inhibit otherwise positive effects of exercise, dieting and other interventions,” said Dr. Ristow.

He emphasized that the effects are only seen with supplements and not with eating fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants and Breast Cancer

Among women being treated for breast cancer, over 60% recently reported that they were taking antioxidant or vitamin supplements during treatment. Most of them were taking high doses – more than what you’d find in common multi-vitamin pills.

Here’s the problem: Research suggests that high doses of antioxidants (like vitamins C and E, selenium and beta-carotene) may actually interfere with radiation and some types of chemotherapy.

The American Cancer Society has recommended for years that vitamins and other supplements not be used during cancer treatment. They do suggest that eating lots of fruit and vegetables may be beneficial before, during and after cancer treatment.

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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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