What is Red Yeast Rice?


Red yeast rice is a brick-red power food with medicinal properties and a long history. It is made by fermenting cooked white rice with a species of mold from the Monascus family, then drying the product and grinding it into a fine powder.

Red yeast rice has been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine and a food source for over a thousand years. In addition to the vibrant color and rich flavor, Monascus adds many beneficial molecules to the rice. One of the most important additions is monacolin K, and it became the first drug ever prescribed to lower blood cholesterol levels. Discovered in 1979, the drug is still sold today under the brand names Mevacor® and Altocor™.

Monacolin K was the first member of what became a family of drugs called statins. While statins are effective at lowering blood cholesterol, they also come with serious side effects. These include: liver and kidney damage, muscle injury, digestive problems, and a higher risk of developing diabetes. These conditions can all be life-threatening if not caught and dealt with in a timely manner, and patients with these side effects must stop taking statins immediately.

Many red yeast rice supplements were effective at reducing blood cholesterol due to their high levels of monacolin K, but concerns about safety and side effects led to the banning of these supplements from the market in the USA and Canada.

Meanwhile, scientists noticed that some strains of Monascus that did not produce monacolin K, were stillable to reduce blood cholesterol. Thus, a search for the active ingredients in Monascus led to the discovery and development of a new type of red yeast rice, called Ankascin 568-R. This form is safe, completely free of monacolin K, and is just as effective at managing blood cholesterol as the old supplements. The sale of Ankascin is approved by both Health Canada and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and its efficacy is supported by several clinical trials and dozens of research studies.

Figure 1. Formation of red yeast rice. Adapted from Patel 2016.

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