Red yeast rice is known for its ability to lower cholesterol levels and promote blood circulation. It is also a digestive stimulant. However, consuming red yeast rice may yield potentially dangerous side effects. Since the FDA pulled red yeast rice off store shelves in 2007, there has been much curiosity about red yeast rice and its potential dangers.
Red yeast rice has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and has, therefore, been the chosen remedy for many alternative medicine patients and doctors. However, red yeast rice has many properties similar to prescription drugs. Unaware of these similarities, consumers may not use red yeast rice appropriately—specifically, if red yeast rice is consumed in large quantities, leading to overdose.
Although yeast is fairly common in the world of baking, some individuals are highly allergic. Common symptoms of yeast allergy are hives, difficulty breathing and swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat. Depending on the severity of the allergy, an allergic reaction could be minor or extremely severe.
Consuming red yeast rice can be dangerous for those who suffer from liver disease. It can be particularly dangerous if consumed with alcohol and could lead to potential liver damage or failure if consumed regularly. Signs that red yeast rice has negatively affected the liver include yellowing of the skin, darker than usual urine and an increase in liver enzymes.
Since red yeast rice is helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, combining it with other cholesterol lowering medicines could be potentially dangerous. It could lead to a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which breaks down skeletal muscle tissue. This breakdown could lead to kidney failure. It is therefore recommended that those who suffer from kidney disease avoid products containing red yeast rice. Furthermore, some red yeast rice products may contain citrinin, which is toxic to the kidneys.
Red yeast rice products are not recommended for pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant. Because of the severe damage red yeast rice can do to internal organs, it may be harmful to an unborn baby. The effect red yeast rice has on breast milk is unknown.
Red yeast rice should not be consumed with other prescription drugs, as there might be medicinal complications. Some of these drugs include cyclosporine, antibiotics, other cholesterol lowering or HIV medications. Because the list is extensive, it is recommended that you speak with a doctor before consuming any red yeast rice products or capsules.
Based in Toronto, Mary Jane has been writing for online magazines and databases since 2002. Her articles have appeared on the Simon & Schuster website and she received an editor's choice award in 2009. She holds a Master of Arts in psychology of language use from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.