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What is Red Yeast Rice?

Monascus purpureus is a species of mold that is reddish in color. When rice is fermented with it, red yeast rice or hong qu is created. Preparation of red yeast rice in China began in the Tang dynasty and it was used as a natural preservative as well as for food coloring purposes. It was later in the Ming dynasty that we see it being documented (in Ben Cao Gang Mu) as a medicine to treat Spleen-Stomach imbalances (read: gastrointestinal disorders) as well as to improve circulation. Later on, Dutch colonists in Java (Indonesia) noted its use by locals and isolated the Monascus yeast from the fermented compound. Only recently have we discovered that the fermentation process also produced natural forms of lovastatin (mainly monacolin K, but also monacolin L and J) that were useful in lowering blood cholesterol – click to read more. Red yeast rice also contains GABA which may be helpful for those with hypertension.

Red Yeast Rice in the treatment of Dengue

In Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia, red yeast rice is called Angkak and is used in the treatment of dengue. When extracted in water in the form of a decoction, red yeast rice is used prophylactically to treat lowered platelet count, one of the more worrying aspects of the infection.

Dengue is caused by a virus that is passed on by the Aedes mosquito. Dengue fever is characterized by a high fever that most time shows up as (1) a severe headache behind the eyes and (2) total muscle and joint pain. Gastrointestinal symptoms like loss of appetite and nausea are most common. Upon infection, the virus depresses blood platelet counts, the result of which is bleeding. The bleeding is most noticeable on the skin (petechia), and usually appear after day 3 of the fever. That said, what is more worrisome, that you don’t want to happen, is for the bleeding to be internal. If your nose or gums are bleeding, it is an indication that elsewhere in your body there might also be bleeding. Normal blood platelet counts (PLT levels) range from 150-450×10^9 and dengue might bring it down to as low as 50 or even 16×10^9!

While rest and fluid intake and constant monitoring is standard operating procedure in hospitals, in Bali, many locals know to use decoctions of red yeast rice as prophylactic treatment. Because red yeast rice is now commonly sold in tablet form as treatment for hyperlipidemia, one may consider using that as a convenient alternative, but should also understand that it may be more concentrated than the water extraction (boiling it in water) typically done at home. But be warned: statins are after all HMG-COA Reductase inhibitors and do work the liver hard. If your lower right rib area starts to hurt, you might just be pushing it a little too much. Also be careful if you are already on statins for hyperlipidemia, are at risk fo liver disease or already suffer from liver diseases.

That said, one has to consider whether to leave the body to weather it out on its own — sometimes taking much longer than the said 10 days to recovery — or to help it along with herbs or supplements.

DISCLAIMER: The entire contents of this article are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the standpoint of holistic health care. You are encouraged to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.

Other Natural Forms of Treatment?

Together with the prophylactic use of red yeast rice, there is another thrust of treatment worth considering, that of using supplementation to help the body fight against the virus.

In Bali, the locals know to use young papaya leaf (e.g. 1 tablespoon of squeezed juice with honey 1x/day) as well as pink guava juice (e.g. 2-3 glasses a day) immediately when they know someone is suffering from acute case of dengue. If one looks at these natural cures, it become clear that supporting with herbal anti-virals is one good way to help the disease along, and while there again is no major study on this (who would want to sponsor this anyway if there is no patentable drug involved?), it is again worth considering for those who want their loved ones to recover well from this virus. Olive leaf extract is one antiviral to consider using together with high and consistent doses of vitamin C (which pink guava as well as pomegranate are rich in).

Note too that when you are suffering from dengue fever, you will likely have no appetite and no stomach for pills and medicines. But it could pay to be disciplined to at least down the antivirals as they can only help.

Diagnosis of Dengue

A complete blood count (CBC) is usually done and reduced levels of WBC and PLT counts are common. IgG and IgM antibody tests are also done. If both or IgM only test positive, it is primary dengue; if IgG only tests positive, it is secondary dengue infection. The issue is that the IgM antibody is detectable by day 5 in 80% of all dengue cases, and by day 6-10 in 93-99% of cases. This means that if you want confirmation of what is causing the fever, you may be getting a false negative if you test on day 1 to 4. (Note: IgG is detectable from day 8, but this is more an indication that the infection is no longer acute.)

How does this help with treatment, which is what may help reduce the suffering and possible sequela?

Especially in endemic areas like Indonesia, the diagnosis of dengue is typically made based on reported symptoms and physical examination. Symptoms may overlap with chikungunya, another viral infection with similar presentation. Many times, because testing is only possible onward of day 4, it makes more sense to first treat broadly with natural supplementation (as mentioned above). That said, it is important in differential diagnosis to eliminate other possibilities. The next most common febrile disease would be typhoid. And then there would be other possibilities like leptospirosis, malaria as well as meningococcal disease.

NOTE: This article was written while Mark Chern was working in Indonesia as a Chinese Medicine Physician. Information regarding the use of Red Yeast Rice and other natural substances to treat Dengue came from the Indonesian people themselves. This article just puts together that information in a manner understandable by the general public.

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