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May 3, 2012
Red Yeast Rice, Artichoke Leaf Extract Reduces Cholesterol Better Than Cholesterol Drugs

Sixteen weeks of supplementation with a plant extract blend containing red yeast rice, policosanols and artichoke leaf extracts reduced LDL cholesterol levels by 21%, according to data from a human trial.
Researchers reporting from the Laboratoire Lescuyer and Aix Marseille Universite in France stated that "this new dietary supplement with a combination of plant extracts including red yeast rice, sugar cane-derived policosanols and artichoke leaf extracts seems to be satisfactory in terms of efficacy, tolerability and safety as this short-term trial has demonstrated," they wrote in the European Journal of Nutrition.

"Present results are interesting and pave the way for future trials."

High cholesterol levels, hypercholesterolemia, have a long association with many diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease (CVD), the cause of almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe and the US.

Cholesterol Drugs

Two-thirds of people taking widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering medicines do not get as much benefit as drug company statements suggest they should, primarily due to cholesterol drugs working better in labs than they do in people.

Moreover, study after study has shown that cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins (Lipitor, Mevecor, Crestor, etc.) do not reduce the risk of death and heart disease in people with moderately high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Despite their ineffectiveness, a recent report from the American Heart Association predicted a tripling of direct medical costs of cardiovascular disease from $272.5 billion to $818.1 billion between 2010 and 2030 (Circulation, March 2011, Vol. 123, pp. 933-944).

Statin medications are the number-one-selling drugs in the world. They work by interfering with the liver function and reducing the production of LDL. But statins are a questionable innovation on at least a couple of accounts. Firstly they are not without side-effects: they can, for example, lead to the breakdown of major muscular material, which can ultimately overwhelm the kidneys and even cause acute renal failure.

Statins also appear to reduce the body's natural levels of the vitamin-like, cellular protection agent known as Co-enzyme Q10. This benzoquinone plays an important role in cellular energy release, particularly in hard worked areas like the lungs, liver and heart. CoQ10 (as it is sometimes called) has also been shown to protect the brain against neurological degeneration. But perhaps most interestingly, with respect to cholesterol, CoQ10 also acts as an antioxidant, particularly active in protecting the system against LDL oxidation and the potential problems associated with this as described above. So whilst Statins might provide a reduction in LDL per se, they might also be causing more problems in the long-term. Naturally, as with many modern drugs, they generally have to be taken for the long-term by anyone who has been prescribed them.

What is particularly disturbing about Statins is, perhaps, the fact that they may be seen as a 'quick fix' for unhealthily high LDL, and consequently cholesterol levels throughout the body. However, the average reduction for LDL cholesterol for all statin drugs combined is less than 18% making the plant extract blend a feasible, affordable and an superior option to Statins for patients with elevated LDL cholesterol levels. Considering the lack of side effects from red yeast rice and artichoke leaf extract blends, the option is gaining deserved attention in the natural health community.

Study Details

The researcher recruited 39 people aged between 21 and 55 with mild hypercholesterolemia and randomly assigned them to receive either placebo or a dietary supplement containing Red yeast rice (500 milligrams per day), sugar cane-derived policosanols (11.1 mg per day) and artichoke leaf extracts (600 mg per day) for 16 weeks.

Results showed that the plant extract blend was associated with reductions in total and LDL cholesterol after 4, 8, 12, and 16 weeks. Compared with values at the start of the study, LDL and total cholesterol levels fell by 19% and 14%, respectively, over the whole study period. No changes were observed in the placebo group, added the researchers.

In addition, triglyceride levels decreased by 12% in the plant extract group, while an increase was observed in the placebo group.

"Present results need to be confirmed by more extensive studies to establish whether this combination could represent a good option for the management of mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia in the context of therapeutic lifestyle changes," concluded the researchers.

Active Ingredients

The researchers note that the main ingredient -- red yeast rice -- offers potential cholesterol-lowering benefits via the monacolin K content. Monacolin K, also known as lovastatin, acts by inhibiting 3-Hydroxy-3-MethylGlutaryl Coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase that plays a role in the production of cholesterol.

Red yeast rice is the product of yeast grown on rice. It is a dietary staple in some Asian countries, and reportedly contains several compounds that inhibit cholesterol production.

Since 800 A.D., red yeast rice has been employed by the Chinese as both a food and a medicinal agent. Its therapeutic benefits as both a promoter of blood circulation and a digestive stimulant. Researchers have determined that one of the ingredients in red yeast rice, called monacolin K, inhibits the production of cholesterol by stopping the action of a key enzyme in the liver (e.g., HMG-CoA reductase) that is responsible for manufacturing cholesterol.

American researchers have found red yeast rice to be effective in treating hyperlipidemia -- the elevation of potentially damaging lipids in the blood -- but who cannot tolerate statin treatment. The findings were from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Vol. 150, pp. 830-839)

This was followed by findings from a study by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, and the University of Connecticut, which found that dietary supplements of red yeast rice may lower LDL cholesterol levels by 21% (The American Journal of Cardiology, Vol. 105, pp. 664-666).

Study Source:
European Journal of Nutrition

Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.


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