Policosanol (Poli-Chol, Polichol) is a natural cholesterol-lowering supplement that has been extensively studied in Cuba. Derived from sugar cane wax, beeswax, or rice bran wax, policosanol consists of a mixture of higher primary aliphatic alcohols. Major alcohol components are octacosanol, triacontanol, and hexacosanol; tetracosanol and heptacosanol are minor components. Policosanol is postulated to lower cholesterol by inhibiting lipid synthesis and enhancing lipid clearance. Other purported policosanol benefits are that it inhibits platelet aggregation, prevents LDL peroxidation, and blocks smooth muscle proliferation, all of which may be important in reducing atherosclerotic risk.
In over twenty clinical trials, policosanol was consistently associated with normalization of dyslipidemic profiles, with reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol reaching as high as 21% and 29%, respectively, and increases in HDL cholesterol reaching 15%.
Policosanol is similar in function and potency to some statin drugs. Researchers recently found policosanol could extend exercise tolerance in patients with intermittent claudication, a leg lameness brought on by exercise and a marker of vascular disease.
Policosanol has an exceptional safety profile and has demonstrated reproducible, favorable, and significant alterations in blood cholesterol profiles with both nondiabetic and diabetic subjects. There have been no reports of drug interactions; however, Policosanol should be avoided by persons taking anticoagulants. The majority of studies on policosanol indicate that it is well tolerated. The potential does exist, however, for allergic reactions, so people with a history of bee or food allergies, especially to sugar cane, should exercise caution. Published studies on policosanol demonstrate that significant results can be obtained within the first eight to twelve weeks of use.
Red yeast rice has been used in China for centuries as both a food and as a medicinal substance. It is made by fermenting a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus over red rice. The yeast has been shown to contain compounds that posses the same activity as found in the statin drugs, which is responsible for inhibiting cholesterol synthesis in the liver. In Chinese medicine, red yeast rice is used to promote blood circulation, soothe upset stomach, and invigorate the function of the spleen, a body organ that destroys old blood cells and filters foreign substances. In addition, this dietary supplement has been used traditionally for bruised muscles, hangovers, indigestion, and colic in infants. Recently, it has been discovered that red yeast rice contains substances that are similar to prescription medications that lower cholesterol.
In 1977, a Japanese researcher found that a chemical in red yeast inhibited HMG-CoA reductase, the enzyme that the liver uses to make cholesterol. The chemical, originally called Monacolin-K and mevinolin, is chemically identical to the generic, fat-reducing statin-based drug, Lovastatin, which was developed from a strain of fungus (Aspergillus terreus) and introduced in 1987.
Two significant U.S. human studies now conclude that red yeast rice is both well tolerated and highly effective at regulating serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In both studies, total cholesterol dropped around 18% and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol fell by 22% to 30%. Serum triglycerides were also significantly lowered. In one of the studies, HDL (“good”) cholesterol increased by 12%.
Because of the potential for drug interactions, it is not recommended that persons who are currently taking statin drugs also take red yeast rice.
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