The role of red yeast rice for the physician.
Red yeast rice is an ancient Chinese dietary staple and medication used by millions of patients as an alternative therapy for hypercholesterolemia. In recent years, the use of red yeast rice has grown exponentially due to increased public interest in complementary and alternative medications and the publication of several randomized, controlled trials demonstrating its efficacy and safety in different populations. The most promising role for red yeast rice is as an alternative lipid-lowering therapy for patients who refuse to take statins because of philosophical reasons or patients who are unable to tolerate statin therapy due to statin-associated myalgias. However, there is limited government oversight of red yeast rice products, wide variability of active ingredients in available formulations, and the potential of toxic byproducts. Therefore, until red yeast rice products are regulated and standardized, physicians and patients should be cautious in recommending this promising alternative therapy for hyperlipidemia.