Lowly fungi have an amazing ability to create compounds that have strong effects on humans (alcohol, hallucinogens and antibiotics, to name a few). As far back as the Tang dynasty in 800, the Chinese harvested a red extract produced by certain types of fungi growing on rice. The fermented rice itself -- so-called "red yeast rice" -- was prized as a remedy for stomach troubles.
Today, red yeast rice enjoys wide acclaim as a cholesterol-lowering supplement that's a natural alternative to prescription statin drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor. Prescription statins can cut LDL cholesterol levels by 50% or more -- a potentially lifesaving result -- but many consumers worry that the drugs will cause muscle pain, a complication that occurs in up to 5% of users.