Red yeast is the name of a mould cultivated on rice, resulting in a product known as red yeast rice, red rice koji and many other variants, and which gives it a bright purple-red colour.This 'koji' process is a tradition of food preparation in Japan going back to at least 300BC. Its use in traditional Chinese medicine comes later, where it was known to revitalise the blood, aid digestion and generally give the body more vigour.
Research in Japan and the United States in the 1970s discovered that the Monascus purpureus fungus contained a lovastatin called monacolin K, which now forms part of many commercially available dietary supplements. Statins are a class of prescription drugs which inhibit the production of cholesterol, and consequently reduce the amount of LDL and total cholesterol in the blood, and lower the risk of heart disease.
Substantial studies in China have shown the use of RYR to be effective in substantially reducing the risks in heart attack patients of suffering repeat attacks or death, although there is concern about taking supplements containing statin substitutes if statins are already being prescribed.
Red yeast rice supplements should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation.