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Scientific Name(S): Monascus purpureus Went

Common Name(S): Monascus, ZhiTai, XueZhiKang (China)

History: Red yeast dates back to 800 AD, where it was described in the ancient Chinese pharmacopeia (published during the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644). It is a mild, non-poisonous yeast useful for gastric problems such as indigestion, as well as circulation. Monascus purpureus yeast is made by a fermentation process using cooked, non-glutinous rice.

Uses of Monascus

Monascus, marketed as Cholestin, has been recommended as a dietary supplement combined with diet and exercise in healthy men and women, under physician care, concerned with maintaining desirable cholesterol levels.

Side Effects of Monascus

Some patients have reported slight digestive tract discomfort. Not recommended for use in patients with liver disease.

Toxicology: Citrinin, produced by Monascus purpureus and Monascus ruber, is nephrotoxic.

Toxicity studies on monascus show no adverse reactions at doses much greater than typical dosing in both long­and short-term studies. In rats fed monascus 50 times the human dose, results showed no abnormalities in areas such as behavior, blood and urine testing. In human trials, some reported slight digestive tract discomfort. The product is not recommended for patients with liver disease. One to two percent of HMG-CoA reductase users in general experience hepatotoxicity and myopathy.

Summary: Monascus purpureus Went is a yeast developed by a fermentation process. It has recently been evaluated for its cholesterol-lowering effects and has been found to inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, a step in the synthesis of cholesterol. Chinese studies are available. but monascus has not been adequately investigated in the US. The FDA has not evaluated any claims for the product but is investigating whether it should be considered a drug or a dietary supplement. Results from about 20 studies offer promising therapy for hyperlipidemic patients. More research is needed to further evaluate the yeast's effects. Toxicity studies are also needed.

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