Studies: Chemical in some Chinese cuisine can lower cholesterol
March 25, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- A type of fermented rice found in Chinese cuisine and sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement can lower cholesterol levels, according to two studies being presented Thursday at a health conference in Orlando, Florida.
The studies of the supplement, Cholestin, are being presented at the American Heart Association's annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention. Both were funded by Pharmanex, Inc., the Simi Valley, California, supplement company that makes it.
The American Heart Association (AHA) called the study results "preliminary" and issued a statement urging caution because no long-term studies have yet been done on Cholestin's safety and efficacy.
In one study, cholesterol levels in 233 elderly Americans dropped by approximately 16 percent after taking Cholestin supplements for eight weeks, according to the study authors.
Levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, increased by 15 percent. Levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, decreased by 21 percent.
Before treatment, the study subjects had mild to moderately high cholesterol; their average cholesterol level was 242 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood).
According to the AHA a person's total blood cholesterol should be under 200 mg/dL. Anything over 240 mg/dL is considered a high blood cholesterol level.
The study was conducted by 12 doctors in different cities. One of the 12 was at a university, the others were not affiliated with a university.
In the second study, conducted in China, cholesterol levels of 70 elderly people with high cholesterol levels dropped by approximately 19 percent when they took Cholestin.
But according to Dr. Robert H. Eckel, chairman of the AHA's Nutrition Committee and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, cholesterol-lowering drugs currently on the market can decrease cholesterol levels by 25-55 percent. He added that these drugs are "well-tolerated, safe, and we've had experience with them for well over a decade."
Eckel said he would not treat a patient with Cholestin "until we have a better idea how to dose it and its safety."
Cholestin is a supplement made from rice fermented in red yeast. Chinese cooks add red yeast rice to some dishes, such as Peking Duck and spareribs, to achieve a red color.
According to Pharmanex, the rice has several natural properties that help lower cholesterol, including chemicals statins.
The supplements have a higher concentration of red yeast rice than one would find in foods, according to Dr. James Rippe, one of the co-authors of the U.S. Cholestin study.
Rippe said it's difficult to quantify exactly how much more concentrated the supplement is compared to foods, but he said the supplements are "consistent with" supplements that have been used by in Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years.
In the studies, Cholestin had no side effects, except for a few cases of flatulence, according to Joseph Chang, vice president of clinical affairs at Pharmanex.
Chang said that his company is visiting physicians around the United States, hoping to convince them to use Cholestin to treat their patients with high cholesterol.
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the imports of red yeast rice from China, saying it was a drug and not a supplement. But in a court ruling last month, a federal judge in Salt Lake City, Utah, reversed the decision, and now Cholestin is being marketed in the United States.
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American Heart Association
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