Red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus)
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Red yeast rice is the product of yeast ( Monascus purpureus ) grown on rice, and is served as a dietary staple in some Asian countries. It contains several compounds collectively known as monacolins, substances known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis. One of these, "monacolin K," is a potent inhibitor of HMG-CoA reductase, and is also known as mevinolin or lovastatin (Mevacor®, a drug produced by Merck & Co., Inc).
Red yeast rice extract has been sold as a natural cholesterol-lowering agent in over the counter supplements, such as Cholestin TM (Pharmanex, Inc). However, there has been legal and industrial dispute as to whether red yeast rice is a drug or a dietary supplement, involving the manufacturer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the pharmaceutical industry (particularly producers of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor prescription drugs or "statins").
The use of red yeast rice in China was first documented in the Tang Dynasty in 800 A.D. A detailed description of its manufacture is found in the ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia, Ben Cao Gang Mu-Dan Shi Bu Yi, published during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In this text, red yeast rice is proposed to be a mild aid for gastric problems (indigestion, diarrhea), blood circulation, and spleen and stomach health. Red yeast rice in a dried, powdered form is called Zhi Tai. When extracted with alcohol it is called Xue Zhi Kang.