By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- People who have had a heart attack may be able to reduce the risk of another attack by 45 percent by taking a purified extract of Chinese red yeast rice, a new study suggests.
What's more, the need for bypass surgery or angioplasty was reduced by one third, and death from cancer was reduced by two-thirds among those taking the extract, called Xuezhikang (XZK).
"A purified form of Chinese red yeast rice significantly reduced the risk of having another heart attack," said lead researcher Dr. David M. Capuzzi, director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Although the results of the study are encouraging, people shouldn't run out and start taking Chinese red yeast rice to prevent heart attacks, Capuzzi said. He noted that the Chinese red yeast rice in health-food stores isn't pure. "This particular preparation [used in the study] was made by a biotech company. So the purity of the components was assured," he said.
In the study, almost 5,000 people in China who'd had a heart attack were randomly selected to receive capsules containing XZK or a placebo. The XZK capsules contained a combination of lovastatin, lovastatin hydroxyl acid, ergosterol, and other components, the report said.
During five years of follow-up, the researchers found that 10.4 percent of those receiving a placebo had a second heart attack, compared with 5.7 percent of those receiving XZK.
Also, those treated with XZK were 30 percent less likely to die from a cardiovascular problem and 33 percent less likely to die from any cause. And the need heart surgery or angioplasty was reduced by one third, the researchers reported.
The findings are published in the June 15 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.
Capuzzi said a drug that includes Chinese red yeast rice may soon be used much the same way as cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent heart attacks.
One heart expert thinks this study shows that Chinese red yeast rice may be another way to lower cholesterol, thereby preventing heart attack.
"Numerous clinical trials have established that statin medications in conjunction with lifestyle modification reduce the risk of recurrent cardiovascular events and prolong life in patients with prior myocardial infarction [heart attack] and elevated, average, or below average cholesterol levels," said Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
This new study may extend these prior findings to the statin medication lovastatin, which is derived from Chinese red yeast, Fonarow said.
"However, it is very important to note, as the authors do in the paper, that the various components of the specific XZK preparation used in this trial have not been adequately studied for its consistency, stability, and individual pharmacologic properties. As such, further study is required," Fonarow said.
Another expert thinks that red yeast rice might confer an extra measure of protection against heart attack.
The extract of red yeast rice contains lovastatin, a drug that has been proven to improve cholesterol profiles and decrease risk of heart attack, said Dr. Byron Lee, an associate professor of cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco.
"However, the improvement in the patients on the extract is far beyond what you would expect with lovastatin alone, so maybe there is some other natural component in the extract that is conferring the extra benefit," Lee said. "That would be quite exciting."
Chinese red yeast rice is rice that has been fermented by red yeast. This rice has been used in China for many centuries as a food preservative, food coloring, spice, and in rice wine. Red yeast rice remains a staple in China, Japan and in Asian communities in the United States.
Red yeast rice also has been used as a medicine for more than 1,000 years. It has been used to improve blood circulation and treat indigestion and diarrhea, the study authors said.