Brewer’s yeast is often used in alternative medicine to aid digestion and treat several health conditions, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Upper respiratory infections (e.g., common cold, flu)
It’s called brewer’s yeast because it’s a by-product of brewing beer.
This article looks at some of the health claims about brewer’s yeast and whether they’re supported by research, possible side effects, and how brewer’s yeast could affect other medications.
Also Known As
- Baker’s yeast
- Dried yeast fermentate
- Medicinal yeast
Brewer’s yeast is the dried, deactivated (dead) cells of the fungus Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is a rich source of B vitamins, protein, and minerals. One of those minerals—chromium—may help with controlling blood sugar.
Not much research backs up the purported health benefits of taking brewer’s yeast. Even so, alternative health experts claim the nutrients in it are beneficial.
Researchers once thought brewer’s yeast might treat diarrhea caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff).
However, more recent research has found that Saccharomyces boulardii, a different type of yeast that’s also a probiotic, is effective against C. diff infection.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Brewer’s yeast may help treat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a digestive disorder that often causes abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
According to a 2017 review of studies, people with IBS who took brewer’s yeast were 51% more likely to have at least a 50% reduction in IBS symptoms compared to placebo.
It’s important to note that this research review included only two trials and 579 participants total. While promising, this research should be considered preliminary.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
Some people use brewer’s yeast to treat the common cold, flu (influenza), and other upper respiratory tract infections. It isn’t clear how brewer’s yeast may fight these infections.
Some proponents claim it boosts the immune response in a way that helps your body “treat itself.” Early, weak evidence suggests there may be something to this.
Some evidence also suggests that brewer’s yeast supplements may make upper respiratory tract infections less severe if you take it after you get sick.
A 2012 study reported that women who took a daily brewer’s yeast supplement called Wellmune for 12 weeks had 60% fewer upper respiratory tract infections than women who took a placebo.
Type 2 Diabetes
Brewer’s yeast contains a form of chromium called glucose tolerance factor (GTC). GTC has been shown to improve the insulin response. Insulin is a hormone that helps convert sugar to energy.
Early research on brewer’s yeast for adults with type 2 diabetes is promising:
- A 2013 study reported a 9% drop in blood sugars
- A 2015 study reported a small but positive effect on blood sugars
Another 2013 study suggested brewer’s yeast improved blood pressure (hypertension) in people with type 2 diabetes:
- Systolic pressure (upper number) dropped an average of 4.1 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
- Diastolic pressure (lower number) fell 5.7 mmHg.
Safety of Brewer’s Yeast
Brewer’s yeast is generally considered safe for short-term use. However, it may cause side effects and negative drug interactions. It’s also not safe for people with certain conditions.
Even “natural” treatments can cause side effects. In some people, brewer’s yeast may cause:
- Stomach upset
Contraindications (Who Shouldn’t Take It)
Brewer’s yeast isn’t right for everyone. You may need to limit or avoid brewer’s yeast if you have any of the following conditions:
Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
Brewer’s yeast may help increase milk production when you’re lactating.
However, very little is known about the safety of brewer’s yeast during either pregnancy or breastfeeding. Ask your healthcare provider before using it.
Brewer’s yeast may interact badly with certain medications. Always let your healthcare provider and pharmacist know everything you’re taking, including natural and nutritional treatments.
Check with your healthcare provider before combining brewer’s yeast with any of the following medications.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
MAOIs are often used to treat depression. They include:
- Marplan (isocarboxazid)
- Nardil (phenelzine)
- Emsam (selegiline)
- Parnate (tranylcypromine)
MAOIs work by keeping your body from breaking down tyramine (a substance in some foods). Brewer’s yeast has large amounts of tyramine.
Taking brewers yeast with an MAOI could lead to a tyramine spike. That can cause a sudden rise in blood pressure known as a hypertensive crisis.
The narcotic Demerol (meperidine) is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It can also cause a hypertensive crisis when combined with brewer’s yeast.
Brewer’s yeast may interfere with antifungal drugs such as:
- Diflucan (fluconazole)
- Lamisil (terbinafine)
- Sporanox (itraconazole)
If you’re taking brewer’s yeast and have a fungal infection (including a yeast infection), be sure to let your healthcare provider and pharmacist know about the brewer’s yeast (and anything else you’re taking.) They can advise you as to the safest course of action.
Dosage and Preparation
No guidelines have been established for using brewer’s yeast safely or effectively.
Brewer’s yeast is available in tablet and powder forms. Tablets often come in doses of 250 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams.
Brewer’s yeast powder is usually mixed with water or other beverages. Most manufacturers recommend 1 to 2 tablespoons daily.
Brewer’s yeast has a bitter flavor that some people don’t like. It may help to mix it into a smoothie or juice.
It’s a good idea to start with smaller doses and gradually increase how much you take over several days or weeks. Never use more than the recommended dose on the product label.
What to Look For
You can find brewer’s yeast online and at many health food stores.
Not all brewer’s yeast products are created equal. This is especially true of powdered brewer’s yeast, which varies from brand to brand.
Powders may be cheaper than tablets, but the nutrient content may be higher in the tablet. Check the label to be sure.
Try to choose 100% brewer’s yeast without any fillers, additives, or sweeteners. Check to see if the packaging lists all the nutritional information, including the daily value (DV) of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and fat. Many products don’t.
Don’t Brew or Bake With It
Brewer’s yeast can’t be used for making beer or baking because the cells aren’t active (alive).
Brewer’s Yeast vs. Nutritional Yeast
Brewer’s yeast is made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae . It is the byproduct of beer-making. The yeast cells are removed, pasteurized, and deactivated.
Nutritional yeast is also Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but does not come from brewing. Rather, it is grown on corn, rice, or other types of grain.
Although they are almost the same thing, brewer’s yeast has a bitter flavor, while nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy taste and a flakier texture.
Because of the more pleasant taste, vegetarians and vegans often use nutritional yeast in replacements for creamy or cheesy sauces or instead of parmesan cheese on pasta.
Beer Yeast and Baker’s Yeast
Brewer’s yeast is available in drugstores and health food stores. Beer yeast is usually only found in businesses that sell beer-brewing supplies.
Even so, 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”—sometimes it’s used for brewer’s yeast while others use it means active dry yeasts used to make bread rise.
Because the names can be confusing, store your brewer’s yeast with your vitamins and medicine rather than in the pantry or spice cabinet. If you’re not sure about a product’s intended use, read the label or ask someone at the store.
If you consume beer yeast or active dry yeast instead of brewer’s yeast, call your healthcare provider right away. It may cause digestion problems as the yeast cells start to grow and produce gas.
Brewer’s yeast is an inactive form of a fungus used in beer making. It isn’t the same as the active form of yeast used in baking and beer making.
Some alternative medicine practitioners recommend taking brewer’s yeast in tablet or powdered form to help with IBS, diarrhea, colds, the flu, and diabetes.
Little evidence supports using brewer’s yeast medicinally. It can cause side effects and interact badly with some medications.
If you’re thinking of trying brewer’s yeast, talk about it with your healthcare provider first. That way, you can be sure the possible benefits outweigh the risks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the yeast that causes yeast infections the same type that is in brewer’s yeast?
No, most yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans. Brewer’s yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Can brewer’s yeast cause weight gain?
At only 60 calories per 2 tablespoons, brewer’s yeast alone probably won’t cause weight gain. It can be used as a protein supplement and energy booster, and may help you maintain a healthy weight.
Is brewer’s yeast good for milk supply while breastfeeding?
Possibly. Some personal reports and animal studies suggest the strain of yeast in brewer’s yeast can aid in milk production. But human studies haven’t been done to confirm it.
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