Statins were discovered in 1971 by Japanese researchers. Statins lower blood cholesterol by interfering with a protein that controls cholesterol production in the liver. Most cholesterol that the body makes is manufactured in the liver. Like many medicines, statins produce numerous side effects, but fortunately, there are natural sources that are less likely to create undesirable side effects.
The foods with the highest levels of statins include oyster mushrooms and red yeast rice. The stemless oyster mushroom grows on tree trunks, and features prominently in Chinese dishes; they are the major component of oyster sauce. Red yeast rice is cultivated with monascus purpureus mold, similar to a fermenting process. Red yeast rice is sold in Chinese herbalist shops as a medicine to lower cholesterol. Red yeast itself–without the rice–is also sold, but is not recommended because it has all the side effects associated with pharmaceutical statins. Red yeast is the food coloring in Peking duck.
All soy products contain statins, and this is one of the reasons that Asians have lower cholesterol levels than non-Asians. It is also why the Japanese diet is recommended for people suffering from high cholesterol. Tempeh is a soy product made in sheets or bricks with embedded whole grains. Red rice tempeh is especially high in statins. The natural statins in soy products avoid the side effects associated with pharmaceutical statins. These side effects include sore muscles and sometimes muscle damage. It is rare, but sometimes pharmaceutical statins can cause eye damage.
Whole grains are rich in phytosterols, or biological statins, which have no side effects. Processing destroys most of the phytosterols. Wheat germ is the best grain source of phytosterols, it contains around 200 mg per 1/2 cup serving. Oat bran contains about 1/3 the amount and rice bran, whole grain bread and brown rice bread contain a little less. Oils made from grains, like rice bran oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil and canola oil are very high in phytosterols. Each of these contain about 100 mg per tablespoon.
Fruits and Vegetables
Many fruits and vegetables contain sterols and stanols that work together to produce natural statins. The highest levels of these come from beets and Brussels sprouts. Other vegetables that contain significant levels of sterols and stanols include cauliflower, onions, legumes, cabbage and yams. The fruits with the highest levels of sterols and stanols are apples and oranges. Other fruits high in sterols and stanols include blueberries, bananas, cherries and pears.
References and ResourcesMayoClinic.com: Red Yeast Rice
MedlinePlus: Red Yeast
Soy Connection: Soy Protein May Be as Effective as Statins for Lowering Cholesterol
ResourcesHealth Discoveries: How To Avoid High Cholesterol Without Medications or Statins
WashingtonPost: Consumer Reports Insights: Statins are potent drugs, but they carry risks
TargetWoman: Natural Statins in Food