What is Brewer’s Yeast

Brewer’s yeast is created as a byproduct of beer brewing. It is typically used in alternative medicine to promote digestive health because it contains small organisms (microflora) that help maintain the proper functioning of the digestive tract. This type of yeast is also believed to treat a number of health conditions, including colds, flu, diarrhea, and diabetes. It is made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a one-celled fungus. It is a rich source of the vitamin B complex, protein, and minerals, including a biologically active form of chromium known as glucose tolerance factor (GTF). This makes brewer’s yeast a potentially useful “natural” nutritional supplement.

Brewer’s yeast should not be confused with beer yeast used for making beer or active dry yeast used for baking. Unlike these types of active yeast, the cells in brewer’s yeast are non-living and cannot be reactivated. Brewer’s yeast is derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae as the byproduct of beer-making. The yeast cells are harvested, pasteurized, and deactivated as part of the manufacturing process. Nutritional yeast is also Saccharomyces cerevisiae but is not a byproduct of brewing. Rather, it is specifically grown on a medium such as corn, rice, or other types of grain.

Although they are essentially the same thing, brewer’s yeast has a bitter flavor while nutritional yeast has a somewhat nutty and cheesy taste (as well as flakier texture). Because of this, vegetarians and vegans will often sprinkle it onto pasta like parmesan cheese or swirl it into a cream or cheese sauce. Saccharomyces cerevisiae should also not be confused with Saccharomyces boulardii, a type of yeast commonly used as a probiotic.

How can you differentiate beer yeast from brewer’s yeast?

Brewer's yeast in flakes

While brewer’s yeast is readily available in drugstores and health food stores, beer yeast is found almost exclusively in wholesale or retail businesses servicing the beer brewing industry. With that being said, beer yeast is often labeled as “brewing yeast.” Unlike brewer’s yeast, it is still active and can be bloomed (grown) to give beer its yeasty taste and fizzy carbonation. The same applies to the term “baker’s yeast,” which some people use to describe brewers yeast and others apply to active dry yeasts used to leaven bread. Because of the potential for confusion, store your brewer’s yeast with your daily vitamins and medicine rather than in the pantry or spice cabinet. If consumed, beer yeast or active dry yeast can cause extreme gastrointestinal distress as the yeast cells start to multiply, bloom, and produce carbon dioxide. If you accidentally eat either of these, call your doctor immediately.

NUTRITIONAL COMPOSITION OF BREWERS YEAST

Brewer’s yeast is a nutritional supplement and may enhance energy levels and strengthen the immune system. It’s a rich source of:

  • chromium
  • protein
  • selenium
  • potassium
  • iron
  • zinc
  • magnesium

It is also a great source of B vitamins that provide:

  • thiamine (B-1)
  • riboflavin (B-2)
  • niacin (B-3)
  • pantothenic acid (B-5)
  • pyridoxine (B-6)
  • folic acid (B-9)
  • biotin (B-7)

IMPORTANCE OF BREWER’S YEAST

Improves Blood Sugar

Incorporating a few scoops of brewer’s yeast into your diet could help balance your blood sugar levels. In fact, there’s a good amount of research that has looked at the blood sugar-lowering benefits of this yeast.

In one study, 84 adults with diabetes received either brewer’s yeast or a placebo for 12 weeks. Not only was brewer’s yeast found to significantly lower blood sugar levels compared to the placebo, but it also improved insulin sensitivity.

When you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for transporting this glucose from the blood to the tissues where it can be used as fuel. Increasing insulin sensitivity allows insulin to work more effectively and keeps blood sugar levels from spiking. The benefits of brewer’s yeast on blood sugar may boil down to its chromium content. Chromium is a trace mineral that has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and boost blood sugar control in those with diabetes. Brewer’s yeast also contains fiber, which can help slow the absorption of sugar in the blood and keep blood sugar levels steady.

Treats Diarrhea

Many people use brewer’s yeast as a natural remedy for diarrhea. In fact, there are several studies that have shown that this yeast may be effective in reducing the risk of diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotic use. This is because antibiotics alter the composition of your gut flora, which is beneficial strains of bacteria that help promote proper digestion and improve nutrient absorption.

Brewer’s yeast is a type of probiotic, which is a healthy strain of gut bacteria that can counteract the negative effects that antibiotics cause.

In one analysis comprised of 27 trials and over 5,000 patients, brewer’s yeast helped reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics and was also beneficial in treating diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

Prevents Anemia

Anemia is a condition caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells, which can lead to anemia symptoms like fatigue, weakness, brittle nails and shortness of breath. There are different types of anemia, including several that are caused by deficiencies in vitamins and minerals necessary for red blood cell production like iron and vitamin B12. However, deficiencies in other vitamins and minerals can also contribute to the development of anemia. Riboflavin, for example, can affect the metabolism and absorption of iron and is essential to preventing iron-deficiency anemia.

Research shows that getting enough riboflavin may reduce your risk of anemia. In a 2014 study, a low intake of riboflavin was tied to a greater risk of anemia among 1,253 adults. Fortunately, just two tablespoons of brewers yeast can provide 90 percent of the riboflavin you need for the entire day to help prevent anemia.

Treats Diabetes

Glucose tolerance factor (GTC) found in brewer’s yeast is known to enhance the insulin response. It does so by binding to insulin and increasing its absorption in blood vessels by nearly three-fold. This action can be especially beneficial to people with insulin resistance.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that adults with type 2 diabetes given 1,800 milligrams of brewer’s yeast per day experienced a 9 percent drop in their fasting blood glucose after 12 weeks. By contrast, participants given a placebo had a 7 percent increase in their blood glucose levels.

A 2013 study from Iran further demonstrated that the same dose of brewer’s yeast (1,800 milligrams per day) improved blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes, reducing the systolic (upper) pressure by an average of 4.1 mmHg and the diastolic (lower) pressure by 5.7 mmHg.

Prevents Migraines

brewer's yeast for migraine

If you’ve ever suffered from a migraine, you’re probably all too familiar with how debilitating it can be. With symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light and distorted vision, it can be hard to carry on with your daily activities when you have a migraine. Brewer’s yeast may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of migraines, thanks to its high content of riboflavin.

In one study, participants suffering from migraines were treated with riboflavin capsules for six months. Not only did riboflavin decrease headache frequency, but participants also reduced their use of migraine medications by 64 percent.

Protects Brain Health

Brewer’s yeast is loaded with several important B-vitamins, including riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6 and folate. These vitamins are essential to many aspects of health, but they are especially important when it comes to brain health.

Deficiency in thiamine, for instance, has been linked to many problems including Alzheimer’s disease as well as cognitive deficits. In the meantime, folate is critical for brain development and the prevention of neural tube defects during pregnancy. Including brewer’s yeast as part of a healthy diet may help keep your brain healthy and prevent a deficiency in some of these important vitamins.

Possible Side Effects

Brewer’s yeast is generally considered safe for short-term use. In some people, this yeast may cause headache, stomach upset, and gas. It should not be used for longer than 12 weeks and may need to be avoided in certain groups. Among the considerations:

  • Brewer’s yeast should not be used in people with a yeast allergy.
  • It should be avoided in people on diabetes medications as it may cause an abnormal drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • It can make inflammatory bowels diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease worse and should be avoided.
  • Brewer’s yeast may cause harm to people with compromised immune systems (including organ transplant recipients and people with advanced HIV) by triggering an opportunist fungal infection.
  • While brewer’s yeast may pose a hypothetical risk to women with a recurrent yeast infection, the risk is considered low. With that being said, you may want to avoid brewer’s yeast if you have an active yeast infection.

Drug Interactions

Brewer’s yeast may interact with certain medications. Chief among these are monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) used to treat depression. These include:

  • Marplan (isocarboxazid)
  • Nardil (phenelzine)
  • Emsam (selegiline)
  • Parnate (tranylcypromine)

MAOIs work by preventing the body from breaking down tyramine, a substance found in large amounts in brewer’s yeast. If taken together, MAOls can prevent the body from breaking down the excess tyramine as it normally would. Excessive build-up can lead to a dangerous rise in blood pressure, known as a hypertensive crisis. A hypertensive crisis may also occur if you take brewer’s yeast with the narcotic Demerol (meperidine) used to treat moderate to severe pain. This yeast may also potentially interact with antifungal drugs such as Diflucan (fluconazole) Lamisil (terbinafine), and Sporanox (itraconazole) use to treat fungal infections.

Dosage and Preparation

Brewer’s yeast is available in tablet and powder forms. There are no set guidelines on how to use brewer’s yeast safely or effectively. Brewer’s yeast tablets generally come in doses ranging from 250 milligrams (mg) to 1,000 milligrams. A daily dosage within this range (or up to 2,000 milligrams per day) is considered safe if taken for no longer than 12 weeks.

Brewer’s yeast powder is usually mixed with water or other beverages. Most manufacturers recommend one to two tablespoons per day as a nutritional supplement. Because this yeast has a bitter flavor that some people find off-putting, it often helps to mix it into a smoothie or juice.

As a rule of thumb, start with smaller doses of brewer’s yeast and gradually increase over several days or weeks as tolerated. Never exceed the recommended dosage on the product label.