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Brewer's yeast

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Overview
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Brewer's yeast is made from a one-celled fungus called Saccharomyces cerevisiae and is used to make beer. It has been grown and used as a nutritional supplement for years. Brewer's yeast is a rich source of minerals -- particularly selenium; protein; B-complex vitamins, and chromium, an essential trace mineral that helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Brewer's yeast tastes bitter and should not be confused with baker's yeast, nutritional yeast, or torula yeast. All those types of yeast are low in chromium.

General

The B-complex vitamins in brewer's yeast include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), and H or B7 (biotin). These vitamins help break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which provide the body with energy. They also support the nervous system, help maintain the muscles used for digestion, and keep skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver healthy.

Brewer's yeast does not contain vitamin B12, an essential vitamin found in meat and dairy products.

Diabetes

Some studies suggest that chromium supplements may help people with diabetes control blood sugar levels. People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin -- a hormone needed to change sugar, starches and other food into energy -- or cannot use the insulin that their bodies make. Chromium may lower blood sugar levels as well, improving glucose tolerance and reducing the amount of insulin needed. Because brewer's yeast is a rich source of chromium, scientists think it may help treat high blood sugar.

High Cholesterol

A few studies suggest that brewer's yeast may help lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in the blood and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Researchers aren't sure whether that is due to the chromium in brewer's yeast or another substance. Not all studies have found positive results.

Weight Loss

Although some studies suggest that chromium may help reduce body fat, the amount of fat lost is small compared to what can be lost with exercise and a well-balanced diet. Brewer's yeast is also used as a protein supplement and energy booster. So it may help maintain a healthy weight.

Other Uses

At least one study has found that brewer's yeast may improve acne. Another linked it to a reduced risk of a second skin cancer. One large, preliminary study found that taking a specific kind brewer's yeast product (EpiCor) may help prevent colds and flu.

Available Forms

Brewer's yeast is available in powder, flakes, tablet, and liquid forms.

How to Take It

Pediatric

Brewer's yeast is not recommended for use in children, because it hasn't been studied.

Adult

One to two tbsp per day; may be added to food or dissolved in juice or water.

Precautions

Supplements may have side effects or interact with medications. You should take them only under the supervision of your doctor.

Side effects from brewer's yeast are generally mild and may include gas.

People who have frequent yeast infections or who are allergic to yeast should avoid brewer's yeast.

People with diabetes should talk to their doctors before taking brewer's yeast because it could interact with medications for diabetes and cause low blood sugar.

People with Crohn's disease should also talk to their doctors before taking brewer's yeast.

Possible Interactions

If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use brewer's yeast without first talking to your doctor.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) -- Brewer's yeast contains a large amount of tyramine, a substance that can interact with MAOIs and cause a hypertensive crisis. A hypertensive crisis is a very fast and dangerous rise in blood pressure that can cause heart attack or stroke. MAOIs are used to treat depression and include:

  • Phenelzine (Nardil)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
  • Selegiline (Ensam, Eldepryl)
  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)

Meperidine (Demerol) -- As with MAOI antidepressants, brewer's yeast may also lead to a high blood pressure crisis if it is taken with Demerol, a narcotic medication used to relieve pain.

Medications for Diabetes -- Brewer's yeast may lower blood sugar levels. When combined with diabetes medications, taking brewer's yeast could raise the risk of having low blood sugar. If you take medications for diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking brewer's yeast.

Supporting Research

Anderson RA. Effects of chromium on body composition and weight loss. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(9):266-270.

Anderson RA. Chromium, glucose intolerance and diabetes. J Amer Coll Nutr. 1998;17:548-555.

Anderson RA. Chromium in the prevention and control of diabetes. Diabetes Metab. 2000; 26:22-27.

Anderson RA. Elevated intake of supplemental chromium improved glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 1997;46:1786-1791.

Bentley JP, Hunt TK, Weiss JB, et al. Peptides from live yeast cell derivative stimulate wound healing. Arch Surg. 1990;125:641-646.

Hegoczki J, Suhajda A, Janzso B, Vereczkey G. Preparation of chromium enriched yeasts. Acta Alimentaria. 1997;26:345-358.

Hosseinzadeh P, Djazayery A, Mostafavi SA, et al. Brewer's Yeast Improves Blood Pressure in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Iran J Public Health. 2013; 42(6):602-609.

Kirschmann GJ, Kirschmann JD, eds. Nutrition Almanac. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill;1996:382.

Li Y-C. Effects of brewer's yeast on glucose tolerance and serum lipids in Chinese adults. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1994;41:341-347.

Moyad MA. Brewer's/baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and preventive medicine: Part I. Urol Nurs. 2007;27(6):560-561.

Moyad MA. Brewer's/baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and preventive medicine: Part II. Urol Nurs. 2008;28(1):73-75.

Moyad MA, Robinson LE, Zawada ET Jr, et al. Effects of a modified yeast supplement on cold/flu symptoms. Urol Nurs. 2008 Feb;28(1):50-55.

Porter D, Raymond LW, Anastasio GD. Chromium: friend or foe? Arch Fam Med. 1999;8:386-390.

Rabinowitz MB, Gonick HC, Levin SR, Davidson MB. Effects of chromium and yeast supplements on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic men. Diabetes Care. 1983;6:319-327.

Rakel D. Rakel Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier;2012;73.

Yoshida Y, Yokoi W, Wada Y, Ohishi K, Ito M, Sawada H. Potent hypocholesterolemic activity of the yeast Kluyveromyces marxianus YIT 8292 in rats fed a high cholesterol diet. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2004 Jun;68(6):1185-1192.

Review Date: 6/26/2014
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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