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Dear Pharmacist: Red yeast rice is Mother Nature's statin

Dear Pharmacist: My cholesterol is high, and my doctor is giving me three months before putting me on a statin, which I don't want to take. Can you recommend a natural solution? -- C.H., Gainesville, Fla.

You can reduce your cholesterol with diet and exercise alone -- did you know that? Most assume they need a pill because that's what the doctor ordered, but a gym is cheaper. When you're not pumping iron, blend, baby, blend. Juicing fruits and vegetables will reduce cholesterol, detoxify the liver and suppress pain-causing chemicals. Try combining fresh carrots, pineapple, celery, parsley, ginger and green apples.

There are many dietary supplements to help you reduce cholesterol and I'll name them shortly. Just promise me you won't lower it so much that you feel sick, that seems to be an American trend. You need cholesterol: It's the backbone molecule of some crucial hormones that make us happy and healthy, namely estrogen, testosterone and DHEA.

Let's focus on red yeast rice, or RYR, to lower cholesterol. This is a dietary supplement and a product of yeast (Monascus purpureus). Basically, it's a fungus that grows on rice, but it's a staple in Asian diets. It contains several compounds known to inhibit cholesterol, such as "mevinolin" or "monacolin K" (same thing, two different names).

This compound reduces cholesterol production. Years ago, one drug company saw green when they learned about red yeast rice and created the very first billion-dollar blockbuster statin, called Mevacor, sold generically as lovastatin. Today, we have other sister drugs in the statin class, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), simvastatin (Zocor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and rosuvastatin (Crestor), just to name a few.

Although RYR is a weaker statin than its pharmaceutical cousins, it works well if you get a brand that authentically contains it. Space is limited here, but you can find a rundown of products that contain RYR at

A 2009 study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that RYR and fish oils lowered cholesterol just as well as Zocor over a 12-week period. For those of you who wish to take RYR, the dosage is about 2,400 mg total per day, plus 100 mg CoQ10 or Ubiquinol to restore what the "drug mugger" steals. Get your doctor's approval first, and do not combine RYR with a prescribed statin.

Other amazing ways to keep cholesterol down (besides reducing cheeseburger intake) is to supplement with essential fatty acids (like Nordic Naturals or Essential Living), policosanol by NOW Foods or GNC, plant sterols (CholestOff by Nature Made), Kyolic's Aged Garlic, Guggulow by Doctor's Best (a pure source of guggul) and/or niacin (there are hundreds of makers for this one). Emerging studies prove that probiotics are helpful to reducing cholesterol.

Did You Know? Consuming apples every day can lower LDL cholesterol by 23 percent over six months.

This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure your disease. Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. To ask her a question or to learn more about your health, visit