Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Medical Breakthroughs?

There has been talk in the medical community for a few years regarding red yeast rice. Red yeast rice has been found to lower cholesterol yet it is a supplement that you can buy over-the-counter. Well, right now you can buy it over-the-counter.  Currently the FDA is trying to decide whether or not this cholesterol lowering agent should be classified as a drug.  The dispute stems from a legal and industrial stand point.

 Red yeast rice has been used in China for over 1,000 years to improve circulation, as a digestive aid as well as a preservative, spice and a food coloring.  Red yeast rice is a product of yeast grown on rice.  It has naturally occurring statins. Statins are used in the prescription Mevacor, among others,  to lower cholesterol.  These lovastatin drugs were originally derived from a type of red yeast and can only be obtained through a prescription.

  In 2007 the FDA banned red yeast rice supplements that contained lovastatin. Was this because of a fear that if it wasn't regulated that people would be harmed?  I don't know but it does seem rather suspect. There are studies suggesting that it is safe because of the longterm use in Asian countries.  The FDA would like to reclassify red yeast rice as a prescription drug but in the same breath declares that red yeast rice without the beneficial amounts of lovastatin do nothing to lower cholesterol.  Maybe that would justify the price increase.  

Interestingly enough you can buy a 30 day supply of red yeast rice for less than $30.  How much do you think it would cost to fill a prescription for Mevacor?  Roughly a 30 day supply would cost around $80.  A 30 day supply of Altoprev , depending on the mg, can cost as much as $239.99, which is quite a difference.  You could request a prescription for Lovastatin, the generic, for close to the same cost of red yeast rice supplement but how often do you think a doctor writes a prescription for Lovastatin? Even if they did lower the cost of the prescription, think about how many cholesterol lowering drugs are out in the market? How many prescriptions would be written and at what cost? 

In 2007 150 million prescriptions were filled for lovastatin drugs. In 2009 lovastatin prescriptions amounted to $14.3 billion dollars in sales. Lipitor was a top seller coming in at $7.5 billion.  This is according to Consumer Reports.  An incredible amount of money to be made on something that has been around since 800 AD.  Banning oyster mushrooms is probably right around the corner.  Oyster mushrooms contain as much as 2.8% statin.  Where do we draw the line?  

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