The Health Benefits of Brewer's Yeast

An inactive form of yeast may help treat diabetes and IBS

Brewer's yeast is a type of yeast created as a byproduct of beer brewing. It is typically used in alternative medicine to promote digestive health and is believed to treat a number of health conditions, including colds, flu, diarrhea, and diabetes.

Brewer's yeast is the dried, deactivated cells of a fungus known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is a rich source of B-complex vitamins, 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.

Also Known As

  • Baker's yeast
  • Dried yeast fermentate
  • Medicinal yeast

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.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae should also not be confused with Saccharomyces boulardii, a strain of the yeast that is commonly used as a probiotic.

possible side effects of brewer's yeast
Verywell / Gary Ferster

Health Benefits

Evidence supporting the health benefits of brewer's yeast is generally lacking. Nevertheless, alternative practitioners believe that the nutrients in brewer's yeast can aid in the treatment of digestive problems (such as diarrhea and colitis), respiratory conditions (including colds, influenza, and hay fever), and chronic disorders such as diabetes and high cholesterol.

Here is some of what the current research says:

Infectious Diarrhea

Despite its use as an anti-diarrheal remedy, there is not much proof that brewer's yeast can actually help. The one exception was thought to be its use in treating diarrhea caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile (also known as C. difficile). However, more recent research has concluded that only S. bouldardii, a close variant of brewer’s yeast, is effective against C. difficile infection.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Brewer's yeast may possibly be useful in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive disorder characterized by abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

According to a 2017 review of studies in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, people with IBS provided brewer's yeast were 51 percent more likely to experience at least a 50 percent reduction in IBS symptoms compared to placebo.

The conclusions, however, were limited by the small size of the reviewed studies. In the end, only two trials met the inclusion criteria for a total of 579 participants.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections

Brewer's yeast is believed by some to treat the common cold, flu, and other upper respiratory tract infections.

While the exact mechanism of action remains unexplained, proponents claim that brewer's yeast increases the immune response in a way that helps the body "treat itself." There is some evidence of this, albeit weak.

A 2012 study from Utah reported that women provided a daily brewer's yeast supplement called Wellmune had 60 percent fewer upper respiratory tract infections after 12 weeks than women provided a placebo.

There is also some evidence that brewer’s-yeast-based supplements may reduce the severity of upper respiratory tract infections in those who are already ill.

Diabetes

Glucose tolerance factor (GTC) found in brewer's yeast has been shown to enhance the insulin response. It likely does so by binding to insulin and increasing its absorption in blood vessels. This action may be especially beneficial to people with insulin resistance.

A 2013 study in the International 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 seven 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.

Possible Side Effects

Brewer's yeast is generally considered safe for short-term use. In some people, brewer's yeast may cause headache, stomach upset, and gas. Brewer's yeast may need to be avoided by certain groups. Among the considerations:

  • Brewers yeast should not be used in people with a yeast allergy.
  • Brewer's yeast should be avoided in people on diabetes medications as it may cause an abnormal drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Some research suggests that brewer's yeast may worsen inflammatory bowel disease so it should probably be avoided by people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
  • Brewer's yeast may cause harm to people with compromised immune systems (including organ transplant recipients and people with advanced HIV) by triggering an opportunistic fungal infection.

While brewer's yeast may pose a hypothetical risk to women with recurrent yeast infections, the risk is considered low. With that being said, you may want to avoid brewer's yeast if you have an active yeast infection.

Due to the lack of safety research, brewer's yeast should not be used in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.

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, MAOIs can prevent the body from breaking down the excess tyramine as it normally would. The 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.

Brewer's 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. Tablets generally come in doses ranging from 250 milligrams (mg) to 1,000 milligrams. There are no set guidelines on how to use brewer's yeast safely or effectively.

Brewer's yeast powder is usually mixed with water or other beverages. Most manufacturers recommend one to two tablespoons daily as a nutritional supplement. Because brewer's 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.

What to Look For

Not all brewer's yeast products are created equal. This is especially true of powdered brewer's yeast which can vary from one brand to the next. While powders can be cheaper than tablets, be sure to comparison shop to find the brands with the highest nutrient content.

Try to choose 100% brewer's yeast products without any fillers, additives, sweeteners, or sugar. Check to see if the packaging lists the complete nutritional information, including the daily value (DV) of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and fat. (Many don't.)

Brewer's yeast is readily found online and can be purchased at many health food stores, drugstores, and shops specializing in nutritional supplements.

Other Questions

Is brewer's yeast the same thing as nutritional yeast?

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 a 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.

How can you tell beer yeast from brewer's yeast?

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 brewer's 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 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.

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Article Sources

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