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Does Red Yeast Rice Raise Blood Sugar Levels Like Statins?

Red yeast rice contains some statin-like compounds. Does that mean it can cause statin-like side effects? Will red yeast rice raise blood sugar levels?
Red Yeast Rice supplements

Many people are reluctant to take statins because of side effects like muscle pain and weakness. But their doctors are often quite adamant that they need to lower their LDL cholesterol. One option people may try is red yeast rice. This ancient Chinese food product has been used for hundreds of years to flavor and color food. Chinese healers have traditionally used red yeast rice to enhance blood circulation. Because it also contains statin-type compounds related to lovastatin (Mevacor), it has been shown to lower cholesterol. Does Red Yeast Rice have statin-like side effects? In particular, this reader wants to know does red yeast rice raise blood sugar?

Did Red Yeast Rice Raise Blood Sugar?

Q. Late in 2016, I began taking red yeast rice (RYR) to lower my total cholesterol and LDL. My glucose level in March 2017 was 118. My doctor recommended nutritional counseling for a “pre-diabetic condition.”

When I told the counselor I was taking red yeast rice, she told me to stop taking it, as it can raise blood glucose levels. I did so, and the following year my blood glucose was 105. This year it was 95. Does red yeast rice raise blood sugar just like a statin drug?

I am a healthy 63-year-old who exercises daily. I have no history of heart disease or stroke and a 4 percent lifetime risk of heart attack according to the ACC/AHA calculator. I would rather have high cholesterol than become a type 2 diabetic with all its attendant risks.

A. Red yeast rice does contain statin compounds, and it therefore can produce some statin-like side effects. The best study we found to answer your question was conducted recently in Taiwan, where red yeast rice is a popular prescription remedy (Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapies, Jan. 9, 2020). 

The researchers compared 34,000 people prescribed RYR to 34,000 prescribed lovastatin. None of these people had diabetes to start with. Those taking lovastatin were more than twice as likely as those on RYR to develop diabetes over the next five years.

A review in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology (Dec. 2, 2019) suggests that red yeast rice may actually have anti-diabetic activity in diabetic rodents. The authors admit, though, that there are no clinical trials demonstrating such an effect in humans.

Can Red Yeast Rice Cause Statin Side Effects?

A “mini-review” published in the International Journal of General Medicine (April 30, 2019) concludes: 

“The claim that red yeast rice ‘naturally’ lowers or maintains cholesterol levels without comparable side-effects to synthetic statins is untenable… It is recommended that red yeast rice products are only made available with appropriate warnings as they have the same clinically relevant risk potential as statins.”

Readers Share Red Yeast Rice Stories:

Did red yeast rice raise blood sugar for Ann?

“I am also interested in the red yeast rice and pre-diabetes relationship. I have been taking red yeast rice for eight years. It has kept my cholesterol level below 200, but my fasting blood sugar has risen gradually to 102 and HbA1C is now at 5.7.

“Seems that if one takes a “statin” even if it is non prescription, the side effects are the same”

Debbie has had a somewhat similar reaction:

“My MD has had me on red yeast rice for a number of years. Despite my not eating much sugar nor refined flour, my blood sugar is higher than seems reasonable (though not to the point of diabetes).”

P.A. Experienced statin-like side effects while taking red yeast rice:

“I had taken red yeast rice for several years because of slightly elevated cholesterol (around 216). Over time, muscle aches and pain increased to the point that I thought I made a mistake moving to NC to play more golf, because I was so stiff and ached so much (I was 59 at the time).

“After deciding to stop taking red yeast rice for a little while to see if I noticed any difference in how I felt, I was amazed to find that physically I ached at least 70% less, and because I am physically very active, I was able to do so much more with way fewer anti-inflammatories. A side benefit is that I felt much more mentally alert.

“I was seeing both a massage therapist and physical therapist for back, knee, and hip pain and both commented on how much difference they saw in the rigidity of my muscles. In addition, I had been diagnosed with diabetes, which I now maintain with diet and exercise. Would I ever take any statin, prescribed or in a dietary supplement like red yeast rice? Emphatically no.”

There is not a lot of research on red yeast rice and blood glucose elevation. We suspect that diabetes is probably less common with red yeast rice because the “dose” of statins is lower than with many of the more potent statins like atorvastatin, rosuvastatin or simvastatin. That does not mean the risk is zero. We think that anyone taking a statin or red yeast rice should monitor blood glucose levels carefully.

Please share your own red yeast rice story below in the comment section. Did red yeast rice raise blood sugar levels for you?

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Citations
  • Chen, T. L., et al, "Evaluating Risk of Incident Diabetes Between Patients Who Used Lovastatin and Red Yeast Rice Prescriptions (LipoCol Forte): A Retrospective Cohort Study Based on a Real-World Database," Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapies, Jan. 9, 2020, DOI: 10.2147/DMSO.S223833
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I am 75 years old and have been borderline diabetic with an A-1C of 6.2. Last summer I went on red yeast rice for 3 months. I follow a low-carb diet and go to the gym 6 days a week, and my weight is 118lbs. I was very upset when my blood work came back with an A-1C of 6.6 and fasting glucose at 158. I have never been that high. I stopped it the red yeast rice, and my A-1C is now 6.2.

My cholesterol is very high due to family genetics. My total cholesterol level is 310. My LDL is 201 and HDL is 90, Triglycerides 97 and glucose 100. I am not overweight, don’t smoke or drink, walk everyday and try to eat healthy foods. I got off statins and started taking RYR for about 6 months. It brought my total cholesterol down 9 points. I was having lab work done every 90 days because my dr. was so concerned about it. (My dad died of a heart attack at age 49). I told him anything over 300 and I will concede to taking statins again. So, the 310 had me a little bit worried. But, when off the statins I could tell a BIG difference in my mind–it was much sharper and I just felt better. I don’t think it’s bad to have a cholesterol reading of 200. We need cholesterol for our brains.

Nothing we put in our bodies is without risk. Seems that food is our medicine. Read the article that Biotin decreases the absorption of Vit D. The fish oils taken for inflammation, dry eye, and ‘cardiac health’ also potentially related to elevated LDL. In my case, my latest D levels are very low, and for first time in my life both my LDL and total cholesterol levels have fallen outside normal limits. Everything has a potential for an unwanted side effect or reaction. Seems like the plant protein diet and longstanding recommendations for a healthy lifestyle are becoming true and backed by more evidence-based facts.

I started taking Red Yeast Rice for high blood pressure and it made my nipples hard. I was not happy with this and it was uncomfortable. I stopped taking it and my body went back to normal. When I asked my OBGYN about this she did some research and said Red Yeast Rice is a hormone and not inspected as prescription medications are and that there are many other factors in herbs and this sort of item. Not for me.

I tried RYR, it did nothing to help me. After a couple of months my blood work wasn’t great. They put me on Simvistatin..I hated it. I gave up all meats, all eggs and most of the cheese I used to eat. My cholesterol came down and now I’m off of statins. I’m making efforts to never take statins or RYR again.

I saw a video about the statin/memory loss connection. It stated that a way to improve memory and/or regenerate brain cells is to eat liver; calf’s liver, cow’s liver, chicken livers. My understanding of the whole cholesterol issue is that statin medications stop our livers from producing too much cholesterol, a substance that our bodies need to function.

Is It possible that statin type medications also deplete our bodies of other needed nutrients? I asked about it, and the doctor said that brain function is also affected by build up of fatty cholesterol type substances so the whole cholesterol/statin/memory issue can go either way; too much cholesterol can affect brain function as much as taking a statin type medication to lower it. Instead, an anti-inflammatory diet was recommended; gluten free, dairy free, plenty of dark veggies and fruit.

I thought our diet was actually better than most: oats, millet, quinoa and other ancient grains; yogurt (home made, no added sugars) for calcium, lean chicken or beef once a week or so, occasional fish, plenty of dark veggies – spinach, kale, broccoli etc. dark fruits; blackberries, blueberries, sometimes raspberries. No soda or sugary drinks, limited alcohol (wine once a month?), snack on grapes or small amounts of peanuts (allergy to tree nuts), sometimes air popped popcorn.

When I ask why cholesterol is elevated I am told “some people’s body just produces too much cholesterol”. So now what? Three different statins and no real reduction of cholesterol with any of them (10 points?) but all 3 raised glucose and A1C. I too would rather deal with cholesterol than type II diabetes.

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