According to a large study carried out in China, a red food colouring ingredient widely used in Chinese cooking protects against cancer and heart disease.
Researchers have apparently found that an extract of red yeast rice in supplement form, reduces cancer death rates by two-thirds, and reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 33% - it also lowered the risk of a repeat heart attack by 45%.
The study which was conducted at more than 60 Chinese hospitals involved almost 5,000 heart patients aged 18 to 70 and also found that the supplement reduced the likelihood of undergoing bypass surgery or treatment to open up arteries by a third and also reduced death rates by a third.
Each day patients took either two 300 milligram capsules of a partially purified extract of a red yeast rice preparation xuezhikang (XZK) or a placebo and their progress was compared over a five year study period.
Dr. David Carpuzzi, from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who was involved in the research has described the results as profound and says the health benefits from red yeast rice even exceeded those of statins the cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Red yeast rice is rice which has been fermented by the red yeast Monascus purpureus and has been used in China for thousands of years as a food preservative, colorant and seasoning, and herbal medicine.
Medicinally, red yeast rice is said to improve blood circulation and aid digestion.
Dr. Capuzzi says if further testing and study confirm the results XZK could become an important therapeutic agent in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders and in the prevention of disease.
However he also says that it is important to recognise exactly how Chinese red yeast rice works remains unclear.
Dr. Capuzzi is the director of the cardiovascular disease prevention program at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and led the study along with Dr. Zonliang Lu, from the Chinese Academy of Medical Science, in Beijing.
Their findings are reported in the American Journal of Cardiology.