Chinese red yeast rice (RYR) is a food herb made by fermenting Monascus purpureus Went yeast with white rice. RYR contains a mixture of monacolins, one of which--monacolin K (MK)--is identical to lovastatin (LV). Epidemiological studies show that individuals taking statins have a reduced risk of colon cancer. In the present study, LV decreased cellular proliferation (P<.001) and induced apoptosis (P<.05) in HCT-116 and HT-29 human colon cancer cells. RYR inhibited both tumor cell growths (P<.001) and enhanced apoptosis (P<.05) in HCT-116 cells. Inhibition of proliferation was reversed by mevalonate (MV) in LV-treated cells, since LV is a 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl CoA reductase (HMGCR) inhibitor. However, RYR with MV did not reverse the observed inhibition of growth. MK-free RYR did not reverse the observed LV-mediated inhibition of cancer cell growth. These observations suggest that other components in RYR, including other monacolins, pigments or the combined matrix effects of multiple constituents, may affect intracellular signaling pathways differently from purified crystallized LV in colon cancer cells. RYR was purified into two fractions: pigment-rich fraction of Chinese red yeast rice (PF-RYR) and monacolin-rich fraction of Chinese red yeast rice (MF-RYR). The effect of MF-RYR was similar to that of LV, while the effect of PF-RYR was similar to the effect of the whole RYR extract on the proliferation, apoptosis and mRNA level of HMGCR and sterol response element binding protein-2. These results suggest that the matrix effects of RYR beyond MK alone may be active in inhibiting colon cancer growth. RYR with or without MK may be a botanical approach to colon cancer chemoprevention worthy of further investigation.