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Treatment of High Cholesterol and Triglycerides with Animal-Free Statins

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

What is Hypercholesterolemia and Hypertriglyceridemia?

Hypercholesterolemia is defined as high cholesterol levels and hypertriglyceridemia is defined as high triglyceride levels.

Classification of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Total Cholesterol (TC), and Triglycerides (TG) (mg/dL)

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 3 adults had high cholesterol from 2015 to 2018, 1 in 4 adults had high triglyceride levels from 2009 to 2012, and heart disease was the number one cause of death in the United States 2020. High cholesterol and triglyceride levels can result in fatty deposits in blood vessels and vascular wall thicking and hardening. If left unchecked, this can lead to heart disease and fatal outcomes such as heart attacks.


A common medication class used to lower bad cholesterol (LDL, TC) and triglycerides (TG) while increasing good cholesterol (HDL) is HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors, also known as Statins. Over-the-counter (OTC) red yeast rice, similar to Lovastatin, can also be used as a supplement for select patients.


What are Animal-Free High Cholesterol Treatment Options?

Statins are first-line medications in combating high cholesterol levels and are generally safe and effective, but 7 out of 8 brand-name formulations we have researched are not animal-free. Statins often include animal-derived or potentially animal-derived ingredients like lactose, magnesium stearate, or polysorbate 80. We at VeganMed are excited to share that Lescol (Fluvastatin) tablets by Novartis are verified animal-free! Although statins are a prescription-only treatment option, there is an over-the-counter option in the yeast derivative of Monascus Purpureus, known as Red Yeast Rice. The monacolin K in red yeast rice is chemically identical to the active ingredient in Lovastatin, thus reducing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglyceride, and total blood cholesterol levels while improving high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. However, the potential for an inconsistent amount of monacolin K from capsule to capsule of red yeast rice is a shortcoming to consider prior to consistent use and why red yeast rice supplementation is not recommended as a substitute for cholesterol-reducing medications.


Side Effects of Statins and Red Yeast Rice

Common side effects include:

  • Heartburn

  • Headache

  • Potential abdominal discomfort

  • Muscle aches


Precautions with Statins and Red Yeast Rice

  • Red yeast rice and statins are not recommended during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), statins may cause fetal harm in those who are pregnant.

  • In those taking statins: Red yeast rice carries Monacolin K which is chemically identical to Lovastatin which may increase the risk of adverse events.

  • In those with current liver damage: Red yeast rice and Statins can increase the levels of liver enzymes and risk of hepatotoxicity.


What Interacts with Statins and Red Yeast Rice?

Products that Interact with Statins and Red Yeast Rice

Products to avoid or use with caution when taking statins or supplementing with red yeast rice are:

  • Alcohol

  • Grapefruit juice

  • St. John's Wort

  • Cyclosporine

  • Other Lipid Lowering Medications (Ex. Niacin, Gemfibrozil, Other Statins)


Conclusion

Although 7 out of 8 brand-name statin medications contain animal-derived ingredients, we do not discourage the use of potentially life-saving medications which may not be animal-free and it is important to involve your doctor before making any changes to your health care regimen.


The adoption of a vegan or vegetarian diet can help lower cholesterol, the risk of heart attack, and worsening coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, and omega-3 along with physical activity to help reduce the risk of heart disease.


Below is a table of the verified animal-free status of brand-name statins and red yeast rice. Although there are no animal-derived ingredients in Lescol, trace amounts cannot be completely ruled out due to the nature of the manufacturing process.


Verified Animal-Free Status of Statins (HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors) and Red Yeast Rice

Verified Animal-Free Status of Statins (HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors) and Red Yeast Rice

Co-authored by: Shairah Acojedo, Onel Isha, Hae Ji Shin


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Disclaimer: The product and/or medical information provided on VeganMed is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or product.

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Looking for certified and verified animal-free products?



Thank you for your awareness and concern for animal-derived ingredients!


If you have any further questions about ingredients in your medicines and supplements, feel free to reach out to the VeganMed team!


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