Red Fermented Rice (Hongqu) – On the Topicality of a Traditional Chinese Medicinal Product

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Red fermented rice (hongqu 紅麯, 紅麴, simplified characters 红曲) is cooked white rice that has been cultivated
with the mould Monascus purpureus, thereby acquiring a red colour. It is obtained through an ingenious and
complicated fermentation process and in China it has been used for centuries as a flavouring and colouring agent
for foods. The first part of this article sheds light on the historical background and the methods of production
as described in two Chinese encyclopaedias (from the 13th and 17th centuries respectively), and discusses the
effects of red fermented rice as they are presented in dietetic and pharmacological works. The second part of
the article presents red fermented rice as a traditional Chinese medicinal that can be classified under ‘substances
that relieve food stagnation’ (xiaoshiyao 消食藥), which regulate digestion and the metabolic processes and
invigorate blood. On these grounds, red fermented rice can be considered for application in differential diagnostic
treatments with the modern biomedical diagnosis of hyperlipidemia. In addition to pharmacological research
on both red fermented rice and synthetic statins - which are comparable in their clinical effect on increased
cholesterol levels - the side effects and safety of red fermented rice are discussed, as well as its dosage. The article
concludes with an illustrative case study.
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Author Ute Engelhardt & Rainer Nögel
JCM Issue JCM 117-59
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